Review: “Inner Voices”


Where: World’s Stage Series at Chicago Shakespeare Theater Courtyard Theater, Navy Pier
When: through June 29
Tickets: $50-$70
Phone: 312-595-5600

Theater Critic

Chicago Shakespeare Theater is celebrating the year of Italian culture in America by teaming up with the Italian Ministry of Cultural Affairs and the Italian Cultural Institute of Chicago to present “Inner Voices” as part of its World Stage Series. A co-production of Piccolo Teatro di Milano-Teatro d’Europa, Teatro di Roma and Teatri Uniti de Napoli, the 110-minute show offers a compelling portrait of the corrosive power of mistrust and self-doubt in a society plagued by poverty and corruption.

Written and first produced in Milan in 1948 by renowned playwright-actor-director-theater owner Eduardo De Filippo, the play exudes a post-World War II sensibility while also resonating in the present. Although it may remind some of Pirandello, the relationship of reality and illusion is very different, and the style struck me as Theater of the Absurd meets Samuel Beckett.

Director Toni Servillo, one of Italy’s leading theater, film and television actors and directors, takes a darker approach to the script than a couple of past television versions, according to the program notes. The opening scene starts out as a family comedy – revolving around food – but the situation soon turns dire and spirals out of control from there.

Mr. Servillo plays Alberto Saporito, the leading character and catalyst for the action, who lives in a tenement with his brother, Carlo, played by his real-life brother, Peppe Servillo. Their palpable connection on stage adds a real sense of intimacy. The pair survive by renting out old furniture (chairs and carpets mostly), remnants of their father’s once-thriving business.

We first see them, though, not in their own apartment – the stunningly minimalist sets are by Lino Fiorito – but in that of their neighbors, the Cimmarutas, where a hungry Carlo shows up apparently to mooch breakfast. As preparations progress, we also meet the family members: the elderly Rosa (Betti Pedrazza), her brother Pasquale (Gigio Morra), his fortune-teller wife Mathilde (Lucia Mandarini), their son and daughter and the maid Maria (Chiarra Baffi).

Soon after Alberto arrives and manages to irritate everyone with his conversation, his intentions are revealed. He’s convinced that the Cimmarutas have murdered his good friend, Aniello Amitrano. He claims he has evidence and has called the police, who turn up and arrest the whole family.

Then Alberto realizes that he must have dreamed the murder, even though the details were extremely vivid. He’s now at risk of being prosecuted and going to jail for making false accusations, and when the Cimmarutas are released, he’s warned to stay inside his house for fear of repercussions.

Instead of being angry at Alberto, however, the family members visit him one by one to accuse each other of the crime and beg him to produce the evidence. Suspicions mount and accusations escalate, so that Alberto even thinks his brother is trying to sell off their patrimony and keep the proceeds. Was he dreaming or wasn’t he? In a world devoid of trust and respect, he finds himself agreeing with Uncle Nicola (Daghi Rondanini) who communicates with bangs and firecrackers and has stopped speaking, not because he’s mute but because no one listens.

“Inner Voices” is in Italian with English super titles, and I suspect something is lost in translation, especially since everyone talks very fast and some sections are in dialect, probably to express cultural and thematic differences. Still, what’s remarkable is that the production comes across as clearer and more coherent than the script alone, a tribute to Mr. Servillo’s direction and terrific acting, especially by him and his brother.

They’re here only through Saturday, so go see them if you possibly can.