The Three Virtues

It's official. Theatre is best enjoyed in the summer. 

The steady heat lingering in the air, the flexibility of choice in venue, setting & performance area on the part of producers and crew, adaptable also for the director to take on new heights in envisioning the script at hand needed to be made manifest, reflected from the casts' side also. Copyright © Diandra A. 2014

I can speak and relate from my last summer adventure for The Merchant of Venice, but a recent, most professional Maltese production I have watched last Friday night - 31st July - got me motivated to create a new post, recalling what got me into theatre in the first place: a desire - both as actor and audience - of being enveloped and transported into a story.Copyright © Diandra A. 2015

I don't consider myself a critic, hence this isn't a review. I find critiquing a theatre production half takes away the enjoyment of watching a performance, and this little factor took some time to brush off after a few projects and presentations for Theatre Studies back at Uni. 

Besides, where there's need to think, it comes by itself. So . . .

Recalling this solely 
through the eyes 
of an audience member 
and theatre lover-practitioner.

We passed the gates of Fort St Elmo, striding through a stone passage leading to the Pjazza t'Armir. 

First sight of immortal antiquity, 
specially in link to the Knights of Malta 
really captivates me, 
and seeing it 
set and used 
for a theatrical  performance 
emplified this ageless-ness even further.

Four massive pseudo-crates on wheels were aligned in front of the natural backdrop of the pjazza, a church's facade. Two women dressed in WW2 army uniforms gave us what looked like an old newspaper, the front page dated 1st September 1943. A piece of history in our hands, cleverly recreated to be the program and containing the cast/production bios for Faith, Hope u Charity.
Copyright © Diandra A. 2015

The play began.

Live music . . .

the pianist cueing a blackout 
and a grandmother walking in with an old pram
leading the spotlight across the stage . . .

We follow the story of Marija, 

a volunteer nurse in WW2 from a Maltese noble family, 
both in status and virtue,

helping others as a duty 
and family creed. 

Living with her grandmother the Contessa Fiorini Sacco, and their personal maid, she ends up in an uncomfortably political and very awkward love triangle. Copyright © Diandra A. 2015

Commiting in a relationship 
with well-reputed 
Irish pilot William 'Timber' Woods
(true person in history) 
and yet drawn to Francesco Cavalli,
Italian soldier 
made prisoner-of-war when he lands by parachute 
in her grandmother's garden.

We're also drawn to the subplot of a family of farmers, providing some humour to the play and as much humanity in joy and suffering as in Marija's social circle and surroundings. Their scenes were my personal favourite; one scene always cracks a smile as I remember the father chastising his mischievous son:

Jekk taqa' minn hemm fuq u tmut, noqtlok!
(If you fall from up there and die, I'll kill you!)

Karmen Azzopardi clearly was a worthy narrator, 
a joy to watch such a veteran for the first time, 
considering her ten year absence from the stage.

I had last seen her on the stage over five years ago, though reading out some sonnets for MADC's Shakespeare's Centenary Celebration between short performed collections of the Bard's plays. Aside from past mental reverberations of a well-known TV series back in secondary school, It-Tfal Jigu Bil-Vapuri (Children come by Boats).Copyright © Diandra A. 2015

In most of this current play her presence and recollections as the older Marija drove the story on, and made manifest echoes of Maltese history before us, 

as to the fanatism faced . . . Copyright © Diandra A. 2015

A mob-fight down the then infamous 
Strada Stretta
between British soldier/s 
who were minding their own business
getting busy with their usual local whore, 
and local Fascist  
having their routine 
attention-seeking marches 
for anyone's cringing pleasure.Copyright © Diandra A. 2015

Coming to that theme, 

it's precisely those various historical-echoes 
recounting actual events 
through these scenes of fanaticism, 
and mentalities 

that this theatre piece aided to bring them to life. 

Something which history books couldn't, 
and up till that night, could only be imagined 
straight from the recounts of those who lived and witnessed them. 

If one were lucky 
or took the time to listen.

Copyright © Diandra A. 2015

I was well impressed by the creativity and ingenuity 
behind the four simple crates, 
as they were turned one time into Strada Stretta, 

one sole 'crate' turned inside-out
into the farmer's family's humble abode, 

in the second act as an interrogation room 

and the two remainders transformed into Contessa's living room, spreading & joining its outer area as the garden. Copyright © Diandra A. 2015

On the evening I went, there were some mishaps: 
the moving backdrops for the living room for starters. 

As Marija was sitting in an armchair

conversing with her grandmother, 
a slight breeze 
eased the left side of the living room wall from its position, 
wheeling in a 90 degree angle 
and very nearly hit the young actress 
as she got warned by the audience's sudden gasps 
and nervous chuckles.

One other mishap however was humorous. 

The head patriarch, grandfather of the farmer family, 
well brought to life by veteran Mario Micallef
was talking in very authentic rough Maltese dialect, 

and the scene was rudely bombarded by 21st Century fireworks, 
not far off from Fort St. Elmo,
blowing up vociferously in colours on the far right of the sky, 

giving the actor no choice 
but to freeze in a position, 
hands up face level, 
eyes looking upwards, Copyright © Diandra A. 2015

resembling slightly
a Christmas crib figurine in his costume, 

silently encouraging his fellow cast members in that scene to wait, 
and invoking respectful applause from the audience in his manner of dealing with the situation.
Copyright © Diandra A. 2015

As said previously, the church facade acted as another stage backdrop. 
People rushing into it for shelter at the sirens' wail, 
while the father-farmer 
naively stayed outside 
to see the planes in action; 
the same naivety that costed him his life, 
as his family were safely inside, 
faithfully praying the Rosary. Copyright © Diandra A. 2015

Act 1 had ended with an Italian soldier escaping a crash in patches of fire, provoking the mourning grandfather to kick him alongside an angry mob. 
All this happening with a blue moon (said to appear on that night's performance) slowly rising to peer over familiar tragic displays of years before.

Copyright © Diandra A. 2015

The Contessa was a delight to watch, 
specially when her characteristics contrasted brilliantly in company of the other characters. Copyright © Diandra A. 2015

She doesn't have that squirmishness that is normally expected from an upper class figure, conversing with the housemaid and farmer family as equals, sharing in condolences and sympathies at the father's death, 
as well as, when talking to Marija later on, cheekily enquiring on her first kiss. 

Not afraid to speak her mind, even in the tiniest hints of dislike. 
Her grandson, the Fascist leader of the previous Strada-parade, Marija's cousin, gets a well-deserving, whopping great slap from her at a social gathering. Her act removing all sense of personal social decorum to do what's right.Copyright © Diandra A. 2015

The Contessa-grandmother is a strong character; the playwright made her an ambassador, rightly so, clarifying  to the colonial authority, when she's taken in for questioning 
that the Maltese's identity is not to be seen as barbaric. 

An ambassador to also remind her fellow citizens that charity tops over any form of persecution, love tramples hate, and no class difference should cause anyone to forget virtue over their current obstacles. 

Copyright © Diandra A. 2015

One sweet, delicate image that remained branded in my mind was the older Marija conforting her younger self, at the abrupt loss of many loved ones in her life, caressing her head and kissing her on the head as young Marija breaks into tears. Copyright © Diandra A. 2015

The most heart-warming of the whole play, the strongest in my opinion, 
was the ending lines from older Marija; 

the fabric that she used to create the baptismal dress, 
that had gone down from her children to the youngest descendent, 
was from the same parachute 
that landed Italian soldier Cavalli into her garden. 

The playwright had a symbolism and intent in mind, 
I'm more than certain of that.

* * * * *
Copyright © Diandra A. 2015

A somewhat strong connection to my late grandmother, Rosette Pisani, rekindled in me that evening. Watching the play, I recalled my fondest memory of her telling me what she saw and experienced in the war as a child, and the play acted as an instrument in bridging a close tie to her. 

ost strongest when I saw the program, 
the front page copy of the newspaper dated 1943. Copyright © Diandra A. 2015

I looked at it and mused . . . 
what was she doing that day? Thinking that day? 

Where was she at that point? 

At home? with her siblings? Parents?

Did she see this very front page, on 1st September with her own eyes? 

What did she witness? Felt?

I had images of her recounting her experiences, now and again during the play.             She didn't feel so distant or lost at all.

Copyright © Diandra A. 2015
* * * * *

At curtain call, special public thanks was given - with a bouquet of flowers - to an old woman in the front row, Anne Rossi, who aided the whole team in giving the play more flesh in sharing with them her past experiences in WW2 as a plotter charting pilots of the Royal Air Force. 

Her interview right here, written and guided by Kim Dalli, worth the read. Copyright © Diandra A. 2014

I really do hope they consider publishing the play's script into a book. It would be worth holding a copy and keep it right next to Francis Ebejer's Il-Gahan ta' BingemmaSecond reason being to finally learn the possible symbolism behind the use of Cavalli's parachute as a baptismal dress . . . I somehow can't shake off this un-enlightened intuition.

Copyright © Diandra A. 2015