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The Director as Thinker Carmelo Bene's Otello Gautam Dasgupta Carmelo Bene, actor, dramatist, and director, is the youngest of the triumverate of major theatrical adventurers (the other two are Giorgio Strehler and Dario Fo) who have come to dominate Italian theatre over the past two decades. Although his visibility on American shores has been largely eclipsed by the belated discovery of his two senior colleagues, Bene arrived here much earlier as the imperious Creon in Pasolini's film Oedipe Re. Within Italy, and since the early sixties, Bene has occupied a unique position among a wide spectrum of theatregoers and practitioners. Eschewing the overtly political dimension of Fo and the tantalizing theatricalism characteristic of Strehler, he has created a singular brand of dramaturgy that embraces an adolescent love of the poetic visions of Laforgue, Rimbaud, Lautr6amont and a more mature coming to terms with theories of literary deconstruction and post-structuralist psychoanalytic thought. Add on to this an energetic infatuation with technology (primarily aural) and there begins to emerge a fairly sharp picture of the bewildering complexities that inform a Carmelo Bene production. Perhaps because of these concerns, he has successfully bridged the gap between young and old, playing to a generational spread of audiences drawn from diverse fields. Carmelo Bene is an experimentalist, through and through. For him, the stage is only peripherally a place of entertainment. He has the talent and the professional know-how to transfer intelligently, in the tradition of Stein, Ch6reau, or Ronconi, dramatic works to the stage. But that is not his forte; 12 he truly envisions himself as a thinker, a theatrical philosopher engaged in questioning, through the medium of drama and theatre, significant issues of our times. It is all the more remarkable, then, that he has attained such stature within the cultural community of his country. That his prominence has been abetted by the fundamentally different (and virulently opposite) attitude to "directorship" in Europe-as contrasted with our situation-cannot be denied. Here, the theatrical is viewed as mere window-dressing; what finally counts is the play. There exists an unwritten law that a good play (known under various cognate terms as "stageworthy," "playable," etc.) must, unless the gods and the ghost of "The Method" undermine it, result in the quintessential production. In America, at least, Eric Bentley's exhortation-the playwright as thinker-has sadly degenerated into the playwright as craftsman at best, as entertainer at worst. More often than not, what we have is the playwright as fish in the developmental pool, and what we mean by developmental work is none other than making a play "fit" for production. Which is to say, how to make the directorial task as easy-going as possible. In an oddly circuitous way, all our emphasis on developing playwrights has resulted neither in very adventurous playwriting nor, and this is the more poignant and disastrous result of such inane policy, in the breeding of imaginative directorial talent. I have seen "unstageworthy" plays in Europe attain the status of theatrical art precisely through the mediation of radical directoriality, instances where the intervention of a strong directorial mind and a belief in the autonomy of theatre have not only breathed new life into a play but bracketed it within a theatrico-philosophical structure of ideas. These tangential remarks are but a prolegomena to a broader discussion on what ails the theatre and its culture in America. But it is also an attempt to place in proper perspective the Otello/Secondo of Carmelo Bene, which I recently saw at the Teatro della Pergola in Florence. This production is a revised, second edition of an earlier Otello staged in 1979. In its radical surgery on Shakespeare's text and narrative development, it continues the tradition of his earlier experiments with Hamlet (titled One Hamlet Less), Romeo and Juliet, and Marlowe's Edward //. In the current version, Bene has pared down the action of Othello, but not to such a scale that we lose sight of the play's narrative strategy. He has appreciably reduced the number of characters to the relevant eight, dressed them all in uniformly white robes, and placed them atop a giant bed...


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