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Michael Vena, ed. Luigi Chiarelli. La maschera e il volto.

Welland, Ontario, Canada: Soleil, 2002.

Editor Vena, currently Professor of Italian at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven, has already established a solid record of publication on the Italian grotesque theater which makes him an ideal scholar to prepare a pedagogical edition of Chiarelli's play written in this literary tradition. The present publication has a two-fold purpose. On the one hand, "... it is intended to expose the student to the practice of spoken and written language, through vocabulary building and manageable sentenced structures commonly used by Italians" (vii). On the other hand, this well-known literary work with its intellectual stimulation and its satiric format, is the first Italian grotesque play to be edited in English. While always recognized as an important playwright in his time, there has been a resurgence of critical interest in Chiarelli's dramatic works in recent times (see xix-xxii for selected critical citations of his works).

Born at Trani (Bari) on July 7, 1880, Chiarelli received his secondary education in Rome. The untimely death of his father, however, precluded university studies. His interest in writing and literature began early (1895) and continued until his death in Rome on December 20, 1947. Vena states, correctly, that "Chiarelli was an innovator and he knew it" (xiii). In fact, the author breaks with the conventional bourgeois dramatic models of the nineteenth-century, which had become stale with the exception, of course, of the very special works of D'Annunzio and Verga.

Considered to be his masterpiece, Chiarelli's three-act play La maschera e il volto (The Mask and the Face) was written in the summer of 1913. This drama is a brilliant satire of the prevailing attitudes toward marital infidelity in which the husband feigns his spouse's death to avenge his honor. Thereafter, a bizarre series of fantastic and ironic misadventures ensues. In many ways, there is an obvious affinity between Chiarelli's dramatic art and that of his better known compatriot Luigi Pirandello.

Vena argues convincingly that this play is a brilliant example of the grotesque movement in theater. The editor describes this movement as "... a genre of theatre wherein the passions and tragedies of life are mechanically simplified and shockingly distorted. The grotesque incorporates positivistic disenchantment, social criticism, and an unusual concept of ethics which denies traditional values and leans toward a relativistic philosophy" (xvii).

This play is the part of the series entitled Teatro classico e contemporanea and the general direction of Anthony Mollica. Three other volumes have appeared so far (Uova sbattute ... moglie blave and Un marito di scorta both by Guido Pugliese, and Il capticcio. Commedia anonima del Cinquecento edited and annotated by Michael Lettieri and Julius Molinaro).

Professor Vena utilizes a familiar and pedagogically sound format for his edition of Chiarelli's play with footnotes and right marginal notes for the English translation of unfamiliar words for the target intermediate-level Italian student. This edited volume contains the three-act play proper (2-73), a series of exercises (75-102), and a vocabulary section (103-23). Vena has produced an excellent and didactically effective edition of this theatrical piece. Moreover, it is a dramatic work that will interest contemporary students because of its irony, its philosophical underpinnings, and its iconoclastic and avant-garde content. Instructors will appreciate Vena's deft but unobtrusive scholarly intervention through his notes and selectively appropriate use of marginal glosses in the text. Likewise, the exercises, which cover each of the three acts of the play, cover its content, and they are sufficiently varied and engaging to maintain student interest. Finally, the activities are formulated so that students who do them properly will demonstrate their comprehension and mastery of the text. This edited volume would be an excellent choice for an entertaining way to develop reading skills at the intermediate level of the Italian curriculum.
University of Louisville
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Author:Nuessel, Frank
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 22, 2002
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