We went to see “Liola” at the Lyttleton this Sunday afternoon. It’s a play by Luigi Pirandello, Italian author and playright. Set in rural Sicily, it’s comedy, farce, musical, moral tale, and maybe, political statement, all in one. It’s slight, but then, when you think about it, quite profound. It’s well acted, and with a twist. Set in Sicily it may be, but the cast are Irish. And the music, played by an onstage band, is East European in style.
What is this telling us? That the ways and travails of rural communities have a lot in common, wherever they are? Or maybe it was just a device to bring it closer to home. A clever juxtaposition. Anyway, I thought it worked well, for the most part. Made you think a bit more.
The story has a dark heart, although it’s not really brought out as much as it could be. The main landowner in the area, Simone Palumbo, has married a young girl, Mita, from the village. After five years they are childless. She is, of course, to blame, and is mistreated. Meanwhile, the hero, Liola, is an agricultural worker, who has had no problem fathering children. He has three boys, who he cares for, with his mother. He’s a charmer, with a love of song. He makes another young woman, Tuezza, pregnant. She’s a niece of Palumbo, and a rather unlikely story is concocted to suggest that he is the father. His obsession is having someone to inherit his wealth and Tuezza’s child looks like the best bet. In his anger, he beats up Mita, as she protests against this arrangement. She briefly escapes him. It turns out that Liola has always loved her and, in an even more unlikely twist, he persuades her to make love to him, so that she also has a child whom Palumbo can call his own. This, of course, doesn’t work out too well for Tuezza, but redeems Mita. Liola, meanwhile, manages to float above all the angst, until the end, when Tuezza makes a half-hearted attempt to knife him, for ruining her grand plan.
And of course, everyone in the village knows what is going on, as everyone in villages does. The claustrophobia of the small community.
So we have domestic violence, adultery, poverty, a village denuded of most of its men through emigration and war. Men who act with impunity, women who take the blame. But all in a rather jolly romp. I kind of hoped that Liola and the landowner were going to have a showdown, a Shakespearean confrontation. But no, in the end, the women took the hit, and the men continued as normal. Mita turned from victim to accomplice when the deception changed in her favour, with no real explanation.
Was that being condoned by Pirandello, or was he just reflecting the way things were? The music, a modern addition, with a song called “That’s How It Is” (or something like that) suggests the latter.
It was an entertaining afternoon, and Rory Keenan was excellent as Liola. I could see him in a few Shakespearean roles in the future. The music was great and the acting engaging and amusing. There was a great reception for the cast at the end.
But it left me reflecting that this was a play that could have been much more. It’s a reflection of its time, I guess. Men getting away with it. Women accepting their lot.
And singing and dancing their troubles away…