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Eduardo De Filippo (1900-84)
main index © Jeff Matthews entry Nov 2002, rev. Dec 2010, add second item Nov. 2014
It happened to me again the other day: another Eduardo-type situation. I was sitting in my car, double-parked at the Naples airport. I was in a line of about 25 cars, equally double-parked and each one of us equally guilty of impeding traffic as it ploughed its dharma-like furrows of turn and return past the entrance, out to the parking lot and back around to the entrance. A traffic cop walked over to me and the following conversation ensued:
"Hey, you'll have to move your car, You're blocki—"
"You know, of all these double-parked cars —and you'll notice that traffic is still managing to squeeze by us— I am the only…"
"Look, this is my job. People double-park, I tell them to move."
"…only person who has stayed in his car while waiting, so I can move it to let cars on the inside get out if they have to."
"OK. Have it your way." (Exit traffic gendarme.)
Understanding, Resolution, and even a good-natured
Victory of sorts on behalf of the downtrodden, all in
quick succession! If this were the stage, I don't know
if it would be Absurd or Realist or What. How does one
describe this Naples and its citizens? — a hodge-podge
of humor and despair, ordinary persons besieged by
life, thwarted, vexed, stepped on, yet maintaining the
all-important "figura" of self-respect and dignity as
they struggle through their "lives of quiet
Eduardo De Filippo does describe it, however, and it is why he is one of the best-loved and best-known Italian playwrights of the century. "Eduardo" (Italians, affectionately, are on a first-name basis with their great artists), can be as bewildering as the Absurd, yet as political and 'socially relevant' as Shaw or Brecht.
He started as an actor with Neapolitan troupes in the 1920s, then with other members of his family founded the "Compagnia del teatro Umoristico i De Filippo," which he reformed as his own "Il Teatro di Eduardo" in 1944. Many of his works are in the rich Neapolitan dialect and share a number of recognizable 'Eduardian' themes, such as the struggle of the down-and-out to retain dignity; the preservation of traditional family values; moral deterioration in the face of poverty; and the injustice of being forced to live beyond the law. Later in his career, he turned somewhat away from dialect in a search to express themes which, though they may be eternal, have become more evidently so in the twentieth century —the need for illusion, for example. In this, his works recall those of another great Italian playwright of our times, Luigi Pirandello.
His works are widely translated and a few have been made into films. Anyone who has seen Marriage, Italian Style, starring Sofia Loren and Marcello Mastroiani, has seen the film version of Eduardo's play Filumena Marturano, the story of an ingenious ex-prostitute who gets her common-law husband to marry her by revealing to him that he is the father of one of her three sons. To ensure that he treats all three equally, she refuses to tell him which one it is. The audience never finds out, either, and to the end of his life, Eduardo good-naturedly complained about all the letters he received from people begging to know which one was the real son! Of course, they missed the point.
Eduardo is still acknowledged to be the greatest interpreter of Eduardo. Since his death, Neapolitans have had to adjust to others playing all those roles that he created for himself and that still seem to 'belong' to him.
In the long, long history
of Naples, Eduardo, obviously, is very recent. Yet, he
so sums up this city that if a science-fiction device
could present his plays to past generations of
Neapolitans, it is a sure bet that they would nod
their heads in assent, then sigh and wonder how they
had ever got along without him.
2. added Nov. 2014
Eduardo's Popularity Abroad
On the occasion of the thirtieth anniversary of the death of Eduardo De Filippo (Oct. 31,1984), there have been a number of recent events in Naples in honor of the playwright: exhibits at the National Library, performances of his plays, and countless articles about him in both print and electronic media. Part of the emphasis has been on how very popular Eduardo De Filippo has been in other nations since the end of WWII. In terms of foreign popularity, the only other Italian playwright who comes close is Luigi Pirandello.
A recent example is the success (in 2013) of Eduardo's Le voci di dentro ("Inner Voices," a play written in 1948). It toured with an Italian company in Marseilles, Madrid, St. Petersburg and Chicago. Eduardo's most popular work abroad seems to be Filumena Marturano (1946) (see note in the first item, above, on “Marriage, Italian Style.”) The play was first staged in 1946 with Eduardo, himself, and his sister, Titina, in the two lead roles. They also starred in the first film version in 1951. The 1964 film version called Matrimonio all'italiana featured Marcello Mastroianni and Sophia Loren and was directed by Vittorio De Sica.) That was so popular, both on stage and in film, that Eduardo planned a sequel (this, according to Marcello Mastroianni in his memoirs) starring Mastroianni and Sophia Loren on Broadway, a play that would follow the further exploits of the couple after their move to New York. Apparently Sophia didn't like the idea, so it never came off. The original Filumena was and remains very popular in Russia, for example. (Image, right, is a Russian-language poster advertising the play.) In the 1960s in Moscow, the audience demanded and got 24 curtain calls after Eduardo's own company performed the work. In second place, at least abroad, is probably Napoli Milionaria!, which opened at the San Carlo Theater in March of 1945, featuring Eduardo, himself. There was also a 1951 film with him as lead. There has not been a popular film for the international audience, but there has been an opera with libretto by Eduardo and music by noted film composer, Nino Rota; it opened in June of 1977 at the Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto. When the stage play is done abroad, it does very well. It is a grim war-time drama set in 1942 in Naples, where everyone is trying to make money on the black market, even as the bombs fall (thus the reference in the title to "millionaires.")
There are different ways for a foreign audience to enjoy such works in another language. Of course, if it's a film, there is no problem because films can be subtitled. If it's on the stage, and you are a member of one of the many immigrant southern Italian communities in the world—a child of the so-called Neapolitan diaspora—it won't be much of a problem. If not, you bone up on the play before you go, just the way you might for an opera. (These days, they probably have electronic text scrolling across above the stage.) Foreign language translations and subsequent performances are also common. In 1973 a production of Eduardo's Sabato, domenica e lunedi (1959, "Saturday, Sunday and Monday"), starring Laurence Olivier in the lead role, won the London drama critics' award. In 1977 an English version of Filumena directed by Franco Zeffirelli and starring Joan Plowright played successfully at the Lyric Theatre in London and then at the St. James Theater in New York. There are countless other examples—thousands of performances of Filumena (among other works) in Buenos Aires and Rio De Janeiro, for example. Translations of many of Eduardo's works are readily available in French, English, German and now even Japanese.
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