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Autori - Manlio Santanelli

Manlio Santanelli

a cura di Barbara Barone


Beati i senza tetto perché vedranno il cielo.

M. Santanelli

Manlio Santanelli


Abstract by Carmela Lucia.

Translated by Patrizia Lopez.


Among the Neapolitan authors whose plays are staged most frequently abroad, from Europe (especially France) to the United States, Manlio Santanelli (February 11, 1938) is considered to be, together with Annibale Ruccello and Enzo Moscato, among the major exponents of the “new Neapolitan dramaturgy”. From the early 1980s on, the playwrights who make up this trend have been very successful on the Italian theatrical scene as a group of voices open to experimentation and to the contamination of varied languages and codes. More than by their convergences they are united by the need to shatter and de-automatize the levelling nature of a “post-Eduardian” koinè based on repeatability and above all on the recognizability of signs.
On the website, Santanelli’s bio-bibliographic profile presents a list of topics divided into two sections: one contains detailed information regarding the Biography of the author and the other section contains the Files of the plays where the plot, the structure of the characters, the fundamental themes and the linguistic choices of the works are analyzed.
From his memoirs, which the author consigns to the confessional pages of the Sottotesto napoletano, we learn that the decision to dedicate himself to playwriting matures after his experience working as a radio and television scriptwriter from 1961 to 1980 at the Centro RAI TV in Naples. And it is exactly in this phase, working side by side with the best Italian actors and directors, that Santanelli learns what he calls “the first level of theatrical writing” ; by this he means the diverse interferences and the exchange of the various codes which together form the basis for the transposition of a text from the written page to the stage. In 1979 Santanelli comes to an important turning-point: he is awarded the premio IDI (Istituto Dramma Italiano) and the premio ANCI (Associazione dei Critici Italiani) for his first theatrical text, Emergency exit. In 1983, in the context of the festival “Città Spettacolo” in Benevento, he presents his second work, L’isola di Sancho, a liberal rewriting of Don Quixote. It is a parable about power narrated with the recitative styles of the fairy tale and it presents, on a formal plane, a polyphonic structure, from the rhythms and the stylistic elements of the Commedia dell’Arte to the tones of the so-called “black comedy” and including vaudeville and even the “sceneggiata” (Neapolitan melodrama). Recognition of Santanelli’s success is reinforced in 1985 by the publication of Regina Madre, an extremely stratified text from a linguistic point of view which has been translated into various languages, from French to Russian, and which is still performed today in many countries.
These are the fundamental themes of Santanelli’s theatre: the “scandal in the sense of an interior alienation, a latent pathology”; the “massacre game”, an attack to discredit and demolish an opponent, which emerges in the competitive dimension of the dialogue between two characters; disguise and the theme of the impending “threat” which comes from the outside (both of these themes have filtered through from his models, they are derived from what Santanelli himself defines as the “maniacal reading of Ionesco, Mrozeck, Beckett and Pinter” together with the great novelists, from Conrad to Musil, from Borges to Kafka); the theme of the “double” and the disparity between form and life, both influences from Pirandello, linked to ritual or to rituality in the sense of a means for exorcizing decayed reality, this last an identifying element with which Enrico Fiore condenses the interpretation of Santanelli’s entire dramaturgy (cf. E. Fiore, Il rito, l’esilio e la peste. Percorsi del nuovo teatro napoletano: Manlio Santanelli, Annibale Ruccello, Enzo Moscato, Milano, Ubulibri, 2002).
As Enrico Fiore affirms (op. cit., pp. 23-24), Emergency exit is a complex and polysemantic text which can be interpreted in many ways, especially because of the co-existence of themes drawn from the best Neapolitan dramaturgy ( where there is a mixture of the comic, the grotesque and the tragic), themes which take form around the “bitter and pungent mood of European theatre which is the exact opposite of that tradition, the theatre of Pinter” (ivi , p.25).
Regina Madre has been judged by Ionesco to be a masterpiece, “a play which is simultaneously fascinating, tragic, entertaining and perspicacious [ … ] which has the tragic entertainment of the new theatre” (the original review can be read in E. Fiore, op. cit., pp. 27-28). In this play from 1984 we are witness to an intimate but “mortal” conflict (these are again Ionesco’s words) between mother and son: Regina, hypostasis of a castrating mother, prevails over her fifty-year-old son, Alfredo, oppressed by failure (matrimonial and professional) as well as by numerous psychosomatic diseases, sacrificing him on the altar of love.
Un eccesso di zelo, written in the same year as Disturbi di memoria (1988), is a play which has the form of an hourglass, with the second act constructed as the exact inversion of the first act. In a tranquil matrimonial ménage, the balance is shattered by the irruptive arrival of a family member, the woman’s father, who throws into confusion the lives of the husband and wife. Just as the tòpos of the threat returns again, coming from an outside element, so again we have the repetition of the “massacre game” which Santanelli considers to be the mechanism most suited to his dramaturgy. The one-act play Il baciamano, while maintaining some of the characteristics typical of Santanelli’s theatre, in regard to other aspects appears to be a completely separate work. In fact, in spite of the themes it contains which place it in the school of the theatre of the absurd and the grotesque, in the text there is a total absence of the “massacre game”, that morbid curiosity for the life and the objects of others, which is at the core of Santanelli’s theatre.
In Il baciamano, the figure of the oppressive woman-mother disappears, she who with her love induces those she loves most to flee (Bellavita Carolina) or to die (Regina Madre) and above all the bourgeois setting is missing due to the choice of a precise space-time dimension, the end of the 1700s. Analogously, the choice of the characters falls upon figures of a plebeian condition who live in a house-cave. The protagonists of Il baciamano are a gentleman, an idealist and Jacobin, and Janara, a witch of Sanfedista leanings who, on orders from her husband, must kill and cook the Jacobin. The story takes place in Naples during the Neapolitan Revolution (1799), a period during which the Parthenopean city is dominated by chaos and madness. This drama is based on two really brilliant intuitions: man who eats himself as a metaphor for Naples killing its own “human essence” and its hope for modernity, in this way killing the Jacobin revolution itself; and the renewal of the ancient dichotomy between eros and thanatos, in consequence of which the woman delights in a simple hand-kiss, an extreme act of pleasure bequeathed to her by her victim. The play, therefore, oscillates between the absurd, the grotesque (imagine the Jacobin cooked in a French sauce) and the realism of a city in revolt, a starving population and a woman whose humanity has been killed by fatigue and by the beatings of her husband. The linguistic choice represents another turning point in relation to Santanelli’s dramaturgical production: the exclusive option for the Neapolitan dialect, the language in which Janara, the witch protagonist, expresses herself, evidences the will to stylize a language with a mimetism modulated and stylized on the ancient tradition of Neapolitan theatre. An in-depth analysis of this work can be found in Antonia Lezza’s essay entitled Rappresentazione e rappresentabilità di un evento: il ’99 nella letteratura teatrale contemporanea (edited by A. Palacanica and M. R. Pelizzari, Novantanove in idea. Linguaggi, miti, memorie, Atti del Convegno di studi, Salerno-Amalfi, 15-18 dicembre 1999, Napoli, Edizioni Scientifiche Italiane, 2002, pp. 437-454. In her contribution the scholar evidences the presence of the two central metaphors in the text, History and Utopia, which “are inevitably in contrast with one another” (ivi, p. 449). In a similar manner there is an irremediable dichotomy between the linguistic register of the Jacobin gentleman and that of Janara who expresses herself in an oppressive and powerful dialect, such as the dialect used in the “tale” of Ficuciello, borrowed from the stylistic elements in Basile and in Croce and from the language of Pulcinella. According to Antonia Lezza , “Consequently, in this exchange of cultures lies the originality of the text, its circularity which is a constant in Santanelli’s writing” (ibidem).