Reviews/Fringe World Festival/Theatre

A show of simple magic

4 February 2020

Skilfully staged and beautifully performed, A Special Day is a thrill for lovers of theatre craft, David Zampatti says.

Review: Por Piedad Teatro and Play Co, A Special Day ·
Home Economics at Girls’ School, 3 February 2020 ·
Review by David Zampatti ·

It’s May 3, 1938, in Rome – a special day for Emanuelle. His hero, Italy’s fascist leader, Benito Mussolini, is hosting the visit to Rome of the German fuhrer, Adolf Hitler, and Emanuelle is off to watch the triumphal parade.

Once the kids are off to school, Emanuelle’s wife, Antonietta, mother of his six children (“If you have another, we’ll name him Adolf”), is left behind in their apartment with just her parrot, Rosamunde, for company. But when Antonietta opens the cage to feed the bird, it takes off around the apartment, out the window and up. Desperately, she bolts up the stairwell of the building, trying to reach the renegade Rosamunde.

Two flights up, also alone in his apartment, Gabrielle has only his revolver for company, and he’s contemplating the most efficient way of using it on himself. He’s been sacked from his job as an announcer at a local radio station for his anti-fascist leanings, and for other, more personal reasons.

Gabrielle helps Antonietta recapture the parrot and afterwards, talking over the coffee he offers her, an unlikely relationship is sparked. It turns out to be a very special day indeed.

A Special Day is that rare and most welcome fringe anomaly: a fully-fledged well-made play, beautifully performed by seasoned, skilful actors and inventively staged. (That’s no slight on the vast majority of fringe theatre, which has different provenance, different objectives and different methods, but it’s a particular joy nevertheless.)

Actors Ana Graham and Antonio Vega chalk in “props” on the set of A Special Day.

Por Piedad Teatro, the company of Ana Graham and Antonio Vega, who play all the parts in the play, is based in Mexico City and New York, and the influence of each metropolis is clear in its work.

The play itself is an adaptation for the stage by Laura Almela and Daniel Giménez Cacho of Ettore Scola’s classic 1977 Italian film, Una Giornata Particolare.

Both actors are wonderful. Graham reminded me of our own star, Alison van Reeken, in her flinty expressiveness that exposes her character’s joys and sorrows, fears and needs without extravagance or superfluity. Vega is no less effective and nuanced, revealing his character’s pain, and pride, in a handsome, dignified performance.

Lovers of theatre craft will be thrilled by the way the performers create the details of the set by drawing in chalk on bare walls as the story progresses. When Antonietta needs to check herself in a mirror, she chalks it on the wall; when the story demands a window for a character to look out, or a bird to fly through, one is drawn. The phone, the salt and pepper shakers for an omelette, all appear by the same simple magic.

It’s a wonderful device – avid Fringe World theatregoers may remember New Zealand’s Anya Tate-Manning using the same technique to equally marvellous effect in 2016’s My Best Dead Friend – and lifts a play that wouldn’t have been ordinary in any case to extraordinary heights.

A Special Day is a special play. You should have it on the very top of your Fringe World bucket list.

A Special Day runs until 16 February 2020 at Girls’ School.

Click here to read a Seesaw Q&A with Ana Graham and Antonio Vega.

Pictured top: Ana Graham and Antonio Vega play all the characters in A Special Day.

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Author —
David Zampatti

David Zampatti has been a student politician, a band manager, the Freo Dockers’ events guy, a bar owner in California, The West Australian’s theatre critic and lots of other crazy stuff. He goes to every show he’s reviewing with the confident expectation it will be the best thing he’s ever seen.

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