A Flower of the Lips (Un Fior di Labbra) may be a new play by Sydneysider Valentino Musico, but it’s also a love letter. It’s a biographical story about his great-grandfather, Bruno Aloi and is a love letter to this legendary man as well as Musico’s relatives, Calabria and Italy as a whole. This stark and bold play, which has its Australian premiere at the King Street Theatre raises many questions about divided loyalties and offers no easy answers.
This production is the fourth collaboration between Musico and director Ira Seidenstein, and the pair previously worked together on Meat Pies & Mortadella and 25Eight at Tap Gallery. The art direction is by Vince Vozzo, an eight-time finalist of the Wynne Prize. His main contribution is a large charcoal drawing that is the backdrop. This is particularly important as the show’s main character owned a charcoal works and the picture evokes the setting in the early 20th century and shows Italy’s then king, Victor Emmanuel III as well as Aloi’s ghost.
Musico was inspired to write the play after learning of the family legends and mystery surrounding his great-grandfather, Bruno Aloi. The latter’s life was cut short at age 34 and his death was never properly investigated. Aloi had been an informant to the Italian police, revealing the names of deserters from the army during the First World War, even if they were his own family members (and all this despite being a committed family man). This contributed to his being gunned down in his prime and leaving behind a wife and five children.
The show is quite simple. It’s a series of vignettes that reconstruct Aloi’s life and death, or at least what Musico learnt from his family’s memories as well as some archived papers from Italy. Four actors appear on the stage for the duration of the show with Yiss Mill as the actor/author, Musico narrating and signposting each event while Marcella Franco does a good job as the enigmatic Aloi. Michelle De Rosa is excellent, alternating between young male characters, Agostino and the Shepherd Boy as well as Aloi’s feisty wife, Rosaria. Jamila Hall and Kiki Skountzos round out the cast.
The play is full of symbolism but this may be lost on some audiences. The dialogue is peppered with some Italian words, which could make things difficult for individuals that don’t understand the language. The events all transpire in a kind of reverential semi-circle (to represent the church that Aloi built in Calabria) and the actors who are not actively taking part in the scene sit and watch the darkness unfolding. It’s an interesting idea but there are moments where things feel a bit too personal or private so the audience fails to understand the true meaning of the dialogue or feel part of the action.
Burno Aloi was an interesting man and A Flower of the Lips attempts to immortalise him and pay tribute to his legacy. It’s a dark play that poses many moral questions about the boundaries between what’s right and wrong. It’s also a passionate, beautiful and wordy epitaph and celebration of Calabrese Italians from the past, present and future.
Originally published on 9 October 2015 at the following website: http://www.stagewhispers.com.au/reviews/flower-lips
Visit Stage Whisper’s homepage at: http://www.stagewhispers.com.au/