THEATER REVIEW: “Naked” @ the Unicorn Theatre [Berkshire on Stage]
Review by Barbara Waldinger
Photograph by Emma Rothenberg-Ware
Many twenty-first century theatre audiences, who expect real life behavior onstage, much like reality TV, may not know how to react to the work of Luigi Pirandello, whose play Naked is currently on the boards at Berkshire Theatre Group’s Unicorn Theatre in Stockbridge. Pirandello, writing just after the devastation of World War I with Italy in turmoil and fascism on the rise, searched for different forms of theater. Drawing from traditions as varied as melodrama, commedia dell’arte and prefiguring Theater of the Absurd, Pirandello, ably served by director Eric Hill and an extraordinary cast of uninhibited actors in a new version by Nicholas Wright, compels his audience to look at his play with an open mind.
Melodrama, born in the wake of the French Revolution, is more concerned with emotions than characterization, as poor or middle-class heroines struggling against wealthy or aristocratic villains, are saved by brave heroes aided by comic sidekicks. The genre alternates between tragedy and comedy, featuring highly dramatic language and situations. Many of these characteristics can be seen in Naked, which takes place in Rome in the 1920s.
Even before the curtain rises, the heroine, Ersilia Drei (Tara Franklin) has attempted suicide following the twofold misfortune of first being jilted by her lover and then losing her position in the home of a certain Consul (Jeffrey Doornbos) and his wife after the accidental death of their child. Now the Consul, in addition to three other men, exploit the distraught Drei, each for his own purposes. The journalist Alfredo Cantavalle (David Adkins) publishes what he believes to be her story in the newspaper; the novelist Ludovico Nota (Rocco Sisto) offers her shelter in his apartment, and the lover, Franco Laspiga (James Barry), seeks to resume their relationship. The comic reactions of Nota’s landlady, Signora Onoria (Barbara Sims, giving a terrific performance), are the source of hypocritical humor as she swerves wildly from offering sympathy for Drei to throwing her out, gossiping with her neighborhood friends all the while.