Boldly feminist La Merda unleashes a stream of naked fury

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      By Cristian Ceresoli. A production of Frida Kahlo Productions and Richard Jordan Productions, Produzioni Fuorivia in association with Summerhall and Teatro Valle Occupato. Presented by the Cultch. At the Cultch’s Historic Theatre on Wednesday, May 3. Continues until May 13

      Think Beckett on steroids.

      Like some notable works by the great Irish absurdist playwright, Cristian Ceresoli’s script for La Merda is an obsessive, recursive, and ultimately furious stream-of-consciousness text delivered by a solo female performer. But where Beckett emphasizes the chasm between mind and body by, say, burying a woman up to her waist, then her neck, in sand (Happy Days) or letting the audience see nothing more than her mouth in a tight spotlight (Not I), Ceresoli boldly foregrounds the female body, situating it not only as a home for the play’s troubled consciousness, but—in a patriarchal, misogynistic culture—perhaps as the primary source of the trouble.

      I did say “boldly”: Silvia Gallerano performs the hourlong play completely naked, clutching a microphone as she perches on a high stool in a crisp square of light. Her unnamed character is an aspiring actress, hoping for her big break on a TV commercial. She’s a tireless source of self-encouragement, even while apologizing for her lack of height and her excess of thighs. The idea of misplaced faith—be it in the perfect body, the lucky break, or people’s basic goodness—thrums like a thematic bass line as the play’s emotions intensify, with each movement building from shy self-effacement to a crescendo of assertion.

      Gallerano is a remarkable presence; she’s done La Merda all over the world in Italian and English, but repetition hasn’t robbed her performance of any of its immediacy. Her body is leonine and her vocal performance is virtuosic as she slips in and out of other characters, travelling up and down her impressive register.

      But it’s sometimes hard to make out the words, and embedded in Ceresoli’s text there seems to be a larger comment on Italian society that, in its cultural specificity, eluded me. And his protagonist can be too passive in submitting to humiliation; she often feels much more like a concept than a person. So in spite of Gallerano’s very human presence, I experienced most of the play at an emotional remove.

      Still, there’s no denying La Merda’s bravery. In a postshow talkback, Ceresoli noted that the climate of censorship in Italy compelled the creators to translate the show into English (for a run at the Edinburgh Fringe) prior to its Italian premiere in 2012. Its countless international awards and accolades are a fitting reward for that courage.