REVIEW: An Italian Christmas Carol Haunts Past and Future
Mae Smith reviews DopoLavoroTeatrale (DLT)’s immersive An Italian Christmas Carol, an interactive theatrical experience for an audience of one person at a time:
An Italian Christmas Carol is an immersive theatrical piece not to be missed, and one best understood by experiencing it. Drawing you into the grim reality of a newcomer’s struggle to find home in a new country and then shaping this experience through the projection of their desires onto the single-person audience, DopoLavoroTeatrale (DLT) delivers a magical and melancholic trip into Christmas for one Italian Immigrant in Toronto. As a solo-audience member, you are invited to explore and discover secret locations in the Bloor West area, transformed into the apartment of a young immigrant longing to be home again. The experience, which runs until December 22, is extremely audience focused, and cannot be guaranteed to be the same every night — in fact, it is almost guaranteed to be the opposite.
As I move through the spaces, I find myself taken by how the meticulous design transports me immediately into the dreamy, mysterious world of the show. It feels as if I am moving through memories that are constantly shifting, familiar and comforting yet unpredictable all at the same time. It is hard, even now, to talk about these elements of the show without spoiling the story – the two are deeply intertwined and complimentary. Anahita Dehbonehie’s production design serves the story expertly well; the blending of worlds allows the audience to unground themselves from the outside world and act in the moment. Yet, with the world of the experience so distinguished from the world of the outside, the impossibility of what the protagonist desires is highlighted, evoking a certain sullen quality. I found myself in awe of the visual bookending – bringing me back to a space aesthetically similar to the ones I began my journey in — as if compelling me to reflect on where I started, where I’ve been, and where I am.
While the ethereal space could survive as an artistic entity on its own, perhaps as an immersive installation of sorts, the experience would ultimately be incomplete without the performers that haunt it. Marissa Zinni, Raylene Turner, and DLT artistic director Daniele Bartolini are captivating spirits; they guide and listen, creating moments of strong connection and the feeling that, in this moment, in that moment, in each moment, you have only each other. The trio is well choreographed, diverting and focusing your attention from grand moment to intimate detail. Bartolini and Zinni’s presence and performance in particular is undeniably genuine. Even though I am spoken to in mostly Italian (a language I am far from fluent in), they still feel familiar and are able to lead me through the mystery without missing a beat. I begin an observer — a stranger in a stranger’s apartment — but, ever so slowly, the actors make me the protagonist. Ever so slowly, Bartolini and Zinni create a home out of these spaces, and I am made to miss people I have never met and long to be places I have never been.
DLT celebrates Italian heritage by emphasizing those things an immigrant cannot bring with them and cannot replicate here. As their audience, I rejoice in the what-has-been and the what-could-be, while being put face to face with the darker reality of the what-is. With detailed and dreamy visuals and a compelling cast, An Italian Christmas Carol brings a new and important narrative to the holiday season.
Mae Smith is an actor from the Greater Toronto Area. She is currently studying Dramatic Arts at Brock University in St. Catharines. Although she concentrates in performance, she is interested in theatre as a whole and all its parts.