“L’ultimo sforzo” (Enrico IV – 2011)
1) The Prologue
When I was in L3-L4 with Monica, she gave us the opportunity to have a bit part in Sei Personaggi. I thought it would be fun, so I tried it out. I was the suggeritore (prompter). I had a blast doing it, even though I forgot the one line I was supposed to say! After that experience I thought that I would like to keep studying Italian and, hopefully, take the Pirandello class next year. I think that my experience helping out with the play was a large factor in my wanting to continue studying Italian and becoming an Italian major. I think I was fully convinced to take the class on our last night in Siena. Monica talked to me, and told me how much fun it would be to take it the next year. After a great summer in Siena, I was excited about Italian, and knew that I wanted to do it. When second semester rolled around, I knew I wanted to take the Pirandello class; the course had been a big part of the reason that I kept studying Italian and decided to become an Italian Major.
2) The First Act
As usually happens with Pirandello, I was thoroughly confused the first time I read Henry IV in class. I think the hardest part about it was having to keep track of all of the characters. It isn’t that there are so many of them; there are a small number of characters who speak. The problem is that they all have alter-egos. Keeping track of which character is which historical figure was difficult for me. The familial relationships were the most difficult part because they were not always the same in the farce for Henry and in the rest of the play. This source of confusion was really only ameliorated for me when I saw all of the actors performing; it was then easier to keep track of who played what part. The rest of the play wasn’t too bad for me. I picked up on the initial plot the first time through; the happenings of the play, and the central conceit behind it, are pretty straightforward. The first time, my understanding of it was very literal. Every time I read the play, I understood the significance better; it is a play with many layers which reveals itself over time. I did not find the language to be particularly challenging. There were certainly parts that I didn’t’ get the first time, or the second, but, frankly, I was just happy to be reading modern Italian. A very large portion of my Italian reading has been Medieval and Renaissance, and, compared to Dante or Boccaccio, Pirandello’s prose are very straightforward. I also think that reading the play got easier over the course of the semester; I was reading so much in my Italian Prose class that my comprehension improved. Lastly, I think that doing the play class last year helped me a lot. Pirandello has a very distinctive linguistic pattern, and I picked up on it more easily this time around.
3) The second Act
This was by far the most difficult part of the course for me. I should have seen how difficult this would be for me when I tried to memorize my excerpt for my try-out to be Enrico; I only had to memorize one paragraph, and I messed it up badly, despite having spent over an hour memorizing it. Since I had the longest part to memorize, I didn’t have to do much else; I wasn’t too worried since all I had to do was memorize. I was wrong. I started to memorize in earnest 3 or 4 weeks before the performance, and thought that I had plenty of time. Again, I was wrong. Memorizing the part of Henry was far and away the hardest thing I have done at Yale. It consumed me for the last few weeks. Almost every free moment I got, I would memorize. Sometimes I sat and repeated the lines to myself, sometimes I paced around and repeated them; however I did it, it didn’t matter. It just took a long, long time. By the last day or two, I could do my entire part with no prompting. There are so few other speakers when Enrico is on stage that I didn’t need other people prompting me in order to say my lines. It had been the hardest and most time consuming endeavor of my college career, but I had it memorized. I was a little nervous before the play, and the feeling of stepping out onto the stage with the lights in your eyes is a bit unnerving. I showed my nerves almost immediately, missing one of my first few lines. But, every time I messed up, I just got the cue and went on. It was a strange thing to forget lines that I knew very well. I would be flowing, speaking quickly and correctly, and then, all of a sudden, there would be nothing. This is a very disconcerting feeling, made much worse because it was in front of so many people. Luckily, I did not miss my lines too many times; I think, overall, the performance went well. I hope the acting part was good, but, frankly, I was so consumed with remembering what I had to say that I’m not sure how much thought I put into the acting itself! I was really tired after the play, and just wanted to relax.
4) The epilogue
I think the play was a really good experience for me for a lot of reasons. The first, and perhaps most important, reason is that it was really fun. Performing a play is much harder than writing a paper or taking a test, but it is also just a blast. I really liked my classmates, and getting to run around, yell in Italian, and act was a great experience. I also feel like I grew through the play. Acting is not something I have done since I was a very little kid, so it certainly stretched me to get up in front of everyone and recite my lines. Additionally, the memorization pushed my brain in a way it hadn’t been pushed before. Never before had I just been mentally exhausted by the sheer mental energy that it took to do a task. It was great to push myself and discover what I could do. Lastly, this play was great for my Italian. I learned so many new ways to talk about craziness (which was really important because I wrote an Italian Prose paper on Freud, Pirandello, Bontempelli, and craziness). Additionally, just having that huge block of Italian to call on makes a huge difference. I think that I am now quicker for being a part of it. Most important for me was probably the accent. Every time I missed a ‘doppia’ or mispronounced a word, the whole class was there to correct me. That was really important, and allowed me to improve my spoken Italian. I think that I got so much out of this class because of how much I put in. This was the most work I have done for a class at Yale by far, but it is also one of the most fun classes of my time here. My Italian got better, I rediscovered acting, and I met great people! This class pushed me a lot, and I am very grateful for it.