Sebastiano Lo Monaco and that Pirandellian passion

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By John

How strange it sounds to me to write in the past tense of Sebastiano Lo Monaco, an actor with whom I have shared many (his) theatrical experiences, to whom I have never spared either criticism or praise, in a long journey made up of shows (his) and reviews (mine). His passing, at just 65 years of age, deprives me of an ancient custom if not of a friendship, consolidated by the strength of discussions and disagreements. And also by his constant presence on the stages of Messina, culminating in the artistic direction of the Theater Authority from 2000 to 2003.
Criticisms because in his evident search for perfection he set himself an impossible goal (for anyone) and, above all, he resorted to functional means to attract the publicbut in some way also a source of distraction as was the habit of accompanying oneself on stage with the “grand old ladies” of Italian theater Paola Borboni and Alida Valli. Women who were a show within a show and who, in some way (especially the first one), represented only themselves, capable of distracting the spectator even from the qualities of the comedian (a term that has become obsolete, but this was Lo Monaco).
He, in a 2015 interview, told me: «They taught me great courage, what it takes today to continue making theatre. The actor has become the last wheel of the wagon, an object to be placed where and if needed; so he became a beggar ». Terribly lucid analysis. There was also criticism for some of his choices of directors to be guided by (or who left him free to move as he wanted?), as was Mauro Bologninidefinitely better at the cinema.
From a direction signed by Bolognini, an epochal discussion was born with Sebastiano, although always polite in tone. It was 1993, the show was «Il beretto a rattles» and the – eloquent – ​​title of my review in Gazzetta del Sud was «Poor Pirandello, victim of an “abscess” of comedy». In reality I found the overly farcical way in which an excellent actor like Giustino Durano had portrayed the role of the delegate Spanò unacceptable. The review, Lo Monaco told me without rancor (and this shows what a person he was), was used by two members of the commission that assigned ministerial contributions to propose a drastic reduction of those reserved for the company.
Let’s talk about praise now. Deserved because his desire was evident (against the tide already in the Nineties, let alone later) to put himself on a par with the great Pirandello interpreters, not the bombastic or sophistic ones in their attitude of presumption, but rather like his fellow countrymen (Lo Monaco was born in Floridia, Syracuse) Except Randone and Turi Ferro, capable of dry and dazzling recitations. Well, Sebastiano has made giant strides along this path and it is no coincidence that his shows were sold out in every part of Italy. Also because in the meantime he had resorted to directors better able to guide him, such as Roberto Guicciardini and also Giuseppe Patroni Griffi. When I saw his «Enrico IV» in the Carcano theater in Milan, it was 2001 and I wrote: «If you wanted, it could be called “Me and Pirandello”, given how Sebastiano Lo Monaco seems to psychosomatise the playwright, his illustrious fellow countryman. He even physically resembles him and it is clear how, when he chooses one of his characters, he tries to enter, even with pain, into the head and heart of the author (…) Personally, I hadn’t seen the actor from Floridia act for some years and I found himself enormously matured, truly capable of giving a personal imprint even to a character so theatrically “beaten” by so many greats like Henry IV”.
He often repeated, as his personal mantra: «The actor doesn’t disguise himself, he undresses»and this appeared very evident in that show, in which the overlap between actor and author, the absence of boundaries completely unmasked the person long before the character.
He had truly become a great actor, but in his own way. Even if Lo Monaco loved to return to acting in the classic representations of “his” Syracuse with interesting results, while recalling excellent characterizations in cinema and on TV, Pirandello remained as an example of his art, or even the interpretation of Eddie Carbone in «Uno view from the bridge” by Miller. «Henry IV» and «A look from the bridge» were born as productions of the Teatro di Messina, even if the latter was the cause of an early divorce, which ended up in court. Lo Monaco wasn’t entirely wrong, so much so that in 2017 he returned to act in Vittorio Emanuele (I witnessed his happiness that evening) with «To avoid dying of the mafia»a great show of civil commitment based on the book of the same name by Pietro Grasso.
But one thing still needs to be said: during the period of his direction, the actor traveled the length and breadth of the province of Messina, from schools to clubs and associations, to bring audiences to the theater. He thus gathered over four thousand subscribers and I remember the buses that brought spectators from various centers in the province two days a week. Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think anyone, before or since, has made an effort of these proportions. Although, as happened and happens for all companies, state contributions are a matter of life and death, the dust of the stage was the real reason for living for him. Before anything.