LGBTheater – Rainbow curtain stories #7: Ulysses in Italy

As it took 20 years for Ulysses to come back to Ithaca, it took us seven episodes to come back to Italy. Not because the Mediterranean country needed more time to come out with an LGBT+ playwright, but because we couldn’t decide which one to start with.

After two needed honorable mentions to Pier Paolo Pasolini and Mario Mieli, we went for one of the most controversial Italian authors of the last century: Giovanni Testori.

Giovanni Testori (ph: Valerio Soffientini)

Testori was born, like Sarah Kane, in a deeply religious family, who pushes him towards fascism. He collaborates with some fascist student associations during the years of WW2, in the meantime devoting himself to painting. His real, homosexual identity will be hidden for years until meeting the director Luchino Visconti, gay as well.

It happened during the Fifties’ when Testori focused on narrating the suburbs of Milan, which at the time was all but the modern, European city it is today. L’Arialda, set in the periphery, is the first drama in Italy about a homosexual couple, born from love and not from perversion, as the catholic misconception about the LGBT+ community dictated. That brought to a court both Testori and Visconti, who directed the movie.

The more one tries to shut a genius, the harder it springs back, like a water tube closed with force. A second friendship, with the actor Franco Parenti and one of the first great female directors in Italy, Andrée Ruth Shammah, let Testori see onstage his Trilogia degli Scarrozzanti (roughly Trilogy of the Tramps). The first chapter, Ambleto (from Shakespeare’s Hamlet), written in a fake 17th century French-Lombard creole, contains gay versions of Bard’s characters, surrounded by a surreal and tragicomical, Copi-like atmosphere.

After fascists, Milanese gangsters, and homosexuals, Testori finally met Christians: in the sad years after the death of his mother (1977) he felt an urge for a companion, even a religious one, and he thought anyone else needed to. His last works are religious plays, similar to the ones of the medieval age, still enriched by his style made of a blur distinction between reality and the stage.

Testori dies in 1993. Like Ulysses, who saw mages and sirens before coming back to Ithaca, the contemporary poet sailed through every sea of thought and expression, suspended between the two opposite forces of individual and sexual freedom and the catholic sense of guilt. So, here we are at the seventh challenge for the participants of the Carlo Annoni Prize: when comes the time, for an author, to experiment in its theatre?