Working on a Special Day, based on Una Giornata Paricolare by Ettore Scola, Ruggero Maccari and adapted by Gigliola Fantoni; translation by Danya Taymore, Ana Graham and Daniel Gimenez Cacho. Directed and performed by Ana Graham and Antonio Vega. Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
I don't want to be alone in this place I hate."
Movies are a two dimensional form. Even showing real life in real time the result is uncomfortably flat. Live theater adds the third dimension bringing a visual reality to the sometimes artificial form of dialogue and action. "Working on a Special Day," the play on stage at Barrington Stage Company's intimate space, the St. Germain Stage, is a film brought to life by two extremely talented Mexican actors who transform the stage into a two-dimensional world with depth and force. They amaze us with chalk. They create the world of Rome, Italy in 1938 out of two chairs, two tables and pockets full of white, schoolroom chalk. It's amazing.
The film on which this play is based, Ettore Scola's 1977 gem of a Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni movie, Una Giornata Particolare, a film that was nominated for two Academy Awards and won a host of others including Italian Golden Globes for both the stars, is relatively unknown. It is the oddly tender tale of two adults in an apartment complex in Rome who are left to their own devices on the day when Hitler comes to meet Mussolini in a very public ceremony. Wife and mother Antonietta accidentally lets the family parrot out of its cage and in pursuit of it meets a mysterious man upstairs, Gabriele. It would be simplistic to say that the two of them naturally fall in love and have an affair. It would be right and it would be wrong. Much more happens between them.
In this stage version, created by the two actors, they play a total of ten people and a bird. Ana Graham and Antonio Vega are perhaps the most available actors you will come by. They are in the lobby before the show chatting with people. They spend the first seven minutes of the play (after they chat with Julianne Boyd in front of you) engaging in small talk with the audience and between themselves as they set the stage for scene one and change into their performance costumes. They move into the play with the knowledge that we know who they are and that we are now ready to know the characters they will play.
They use the white chalk to draw the elements of the play that we need to see - open windows, a bird-cage, a broken lamp, for example, and they erase what is no longer needed. This is a unique form of chiaroscura theater that, through the reality of their artwork, now and then threatens to break the reality of their acting. However in this ideal setting of the small, intimate St. German Theatre, the principal characters never leave us even when they are being taken offstage to transport themselves to other places or become other characters.
Members of both the award-winning Mexican troupe, Por Piedad Teatro, and the New York-based The Play Company, Vega and Graham have learned their craft well and use these techniques to alter their three-dimensional space into a four dimensional experience. The simple art of storytelling transforms into direct contact with the minds of the audience. There is a sense of transfixion about the experience. Often in a good play, or movie, the audience is put into a "fly on the wall" place, observing action from a safe distance. Here the artists take us one step further into the experience itself. We are compelled through their actions to wonder, "what next?" over and over again. We are truly unable to take our eyes off the stage and its population. In the 76 minutes it takes to play the entire show a full day passes and we are allowed to escape at last as one final humiliation occurs and a drawn lamp is drawn out.
This is theatrical art at its most unique. It is also moving, an emotional firecracker of a play with every element a first time experience. This isn't a tour-de-force of a one-person play with every character emerging from a single source. This is, instead, a weirdly realistic realization of a personal, two-person play, played out in the pantheon of pre-WWII Rome with thousands of people within earshot. I can see them all now through those chalked-in windows, hear them in the hallway, and know that at any moment I will see them more clearly. That is the art that Ana Graham and Antonio Vega use and display and disport on this small Pittsfield stage.
I wouldn't have missed it for the world - not even for the world in which this play takes place.
Antonio Vega; photo: Kevin Sprague
Ana Graham; photo: Kevin Sprague
Graham and Vega; photo: Kevin Sprague
Working on a Special Day plays on the St. Germain Stage at Barrington Stage Company's Sydelle and Lee Blatt Performing Arts Center, located at 36 Linden Street, Pittsfield, MA through July 6. For information and tickets call the box office at 413-236-8888 or go on line at www.barringtonstageco.org.