This review will consider one of three performances by Teatro Multilingue, Goodbye, Papà, written by Francesco Baj and directed by Flavio Marigliani, and I should start by stating that given that this is a very short play, of only fourteen minutes’ length, my review will be accordingly brief.
I shall begin by considering the use of space in this performance. Figlio (also Francesco Baj) and Hija (Ineska Dabrowski) are separated by the coffin of their Father (voiced by Douglas Dean), and, whilst a minimalist set, this works very well, providing simple but effective symbolism in parallelism and unity, as well as clarity and a pleasing symmetry. However, the incongruous breach of this separation, halfway into the performance, when Dabrowski sits next to Baj, is most questionable. There is no reason for the characters to be so close together, let alone to interact with each other as they then do.
Whilst I enjoy the concept of a shared identity between the characters, placing the performers side-by-side and writing their interactions like this warrants greater marking and introduction. A back-and-forth of English grammar rules is not enough to unite these characters that have been distinctly separate for the entire performance thus far — noting that having Baj suddenly sitting on Dabrowski’s side of the coffin is [incorrectly] made equally as insignificant.
Use of space is quite a permanent issue in this performance, and this comes hand-in-hand with another issue I should address: I emphasise that both characters should be on stage with one another at all times, with the coffin between them being enough to convey their distinction, and, most importantly, that both performers should each have specific activities to occupy their time whilst audience focus remains veered to the other — NB: activities that are coherent with the text. The reason for this becomes clear when we observe moments when one character is speaking and the other is silent. In these moments, we see the silent performer sat absent-mindedly in the background, staring off into the distance, doing nothing; this needs to be addressed. If a performer is on stage [or on screen, in this instance], there should be a clear reason for it. More awkwardly here, though, are moments of fast dialogue, where this lack of activity, action and motion in silent performers creates two tensions: firstly, the speed of the one, talking performer is compromised by the lack of vigour in the other; and secondly, all naturalism is compromised because of the dead, frozen visage of the other performer which suddenly reanimates when they finally speak. Other than this, it simply looks like you’re attentively awaiting your cue. I must say, however, that this last point is mostly an issue with Dabrowski, as Baj seems to find something to do quite frequently.
On the topic of naturalism, expressivity is quite lacking in this performance, particularly for Baj. Directed speech seems far too deliberate, and overall performativity is rather wooden and bland. Energy, however, is consistent throughout. I would just recommend a variation of physicality and voice to deliver quotations of the characters’ mothers. Furthermore, all of this is not aided by the lack of realism in the text. From the awkward and jarring [and gratingly deliberately slow] delivery of the line ‘history repeating itself’ to the inclusion of the “Shakespearean” quote that’s is not actually Shakespeare [or even delivered in iambic pentameter], realism is lacking in this dramatic text. The identical childhoods of the two characters in itself does not really scream realism, especially with the inclusion of Mrs Brown, and particularly given that they are both in different countries [presumably, as I do not believe there is any indication as to where the two characters are]. Most notably, however, is the inclusion of the Father’s voice, both unnecessary and bizarre, used for a simply ridiculous and irrelevant ending with the revelation that his corpse has been cut into two halves, one for each of his children — suggesting that they would still not know each other after his death and would be both estranged and separated geographically, making their sitting next to each other halfway in all the more questionable.
In terms of the writing, which is somewhat bipartite and predictable in its form and structure. I find moments that deliberately attempt to connect the stories, such as the ‘Instagram/Facebook’ lines aggravating, clunky and needless. I find it difficult to understand why this text is conveyed through these two characters when its content is so heavily focused on their mothers’ experiences. In fact, I think this performance would have benefited from replacing these characters with the characters of their mothers, altogether, to ‘cut out the middle people’, as it were. This would have made for a more direct and, I believe, a more interesting watch, overall. I should probably note here the discontinuity with Hija’s mother suddenly deciding it would, indeed, be a good idea to form a ‘woman’s support group’ with the ‘Italian woman’ straight after deciding not to do this.
To conclude, this is not a particularly strong play. Overall performance style seems to be indecisive and inconsistent, and content is rather repetitive, especially with characters, as I mentioned above, sharing the exact same [back]story, and it seems as though the theme of English language learning and speaking is simply thrown in as an unnecessary means of including a third language in this multilingual performance. In fact, I would completely cut the entire scene where the two characters discuss English grammar, tenses and sentence structures; it is unneeded, odd and boring, not progressing the plot in any meaningful way at all.