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The walk-on character who became
a protagonist

· ​Artists ·

“I can remain a walk-on character, surviving with just a few lines, or even not existing, as often happens when cuts have to be made, when time is running out and money for putting on the play is in short supply. Living is what interests me, not having my name in large letters on a poster. For me it has always been like this, all my life. My true life, I mean to say, not the life that returns to the stage every time that someone retells it, in thousands of countries, in films, in children’s stories, behind the curtain of a puppet show, in notes written in tiny writing in the margins of the text, translated into all known languages. It was immediately like this, as soon as I emerged from childhood, all my life”.

Giovanna Mangiù interprets Rosaline

It is Reverend Mother Rosaline who is speaking, the sister who plays the lead in the very accomplished theatrical piece written by Silvia Guidi, a journalist of the cultural service of L’Osservatore Romano, who – as she herself has admitted –suffers from a real dependence on Dante, Shakespeare, David Foster Wallace and Elena Bono. This Mount Olympus of inspiring figures are all in a sense present against the light in the one-act RosalineLike Dust and Fire in which Romeo’s first love, she too a Capulet, tells her story.

A literary figure left mute for centuries at the back of the stage – from Shakespeare to various film versions of Romeo and Juliet, such as Franco Zeffirelli’s (1968), or the more recent Still Star-Crossed by Heather Mitchell (2017) – Rosaline now finds a voice, thanks to Guidi’s pen. In appearance she may seem unruly, but in reality she is happy to tell her story: the protagonist of this monologue offers a long and passionate reflection on life and on faith, on vocation and on love, on friendship, on God and on forgiveness (“everything or almost everything is always forgiven, except for the important things”).

The decision to enter a convent materialized slowly, “little by little”. At the outset “it was a pretext to study; to learn to read and write, to listen to the tutor’s lessons together with the children of the house, learning how to read music was not enough for me. I wanted to understand how things worked, I wanted to touch the secret hidden beneath the purple parchment of the books, to touch the incandescent heart that trembles in the most beautiful music. I thought: I can always say that I had second thoughts, my family love me they won’t be too upset to find out that basically I have deceived them […]. I was calm, I had taken a step back at the last minute, I could decide when and how to step backwards and return to the world in the midst of everyone else, this gave me security. This gave me security, do you understand? It made me feel grown-up and responsible, mistress of myself, different from the other little girls, slaves to a family name and an influential alliance. Then I slowly realized that this was exactly what I wanted, the library and the waking-up for Lauds, the Magnificat and the Psalms of Vespers, even the turn in the kitchen among mountains of celery, turnips and carrots, or the evenings, laughing among the others with stacks of dishes to wash”.

So it is that Rosaline reflects with depth and a critical sense, used as she is to putting herself to the test again and again and to calling herself into question, that it is a matter of her friendship with Juliet or her relationship with God – deciding and choosing are not in fact the mainstays of the human condition. “We decide very little during our journey through life. Only an improbable superiority complex makes us forget it. We decide very little, it suffices to look at the garden below the house to understand”. In leaving us her spiritual testament, Rosaline is serene, strong in the fact that she – a cloistered nun – has indeed lived more intensely not only than Mercutio, that frog with a big mouth and the braggart Tybalt, full of gossip and pride, but also than all the Capulets and Montagues together, past and present.

The idea of giving life to Rosaline was not a bolt from the blue for Guidi – who is also a radio-broadcast author and has other theatrical texts that have been staged in the past. For years in fact this journalist, born in Florence, has collaborated with the Sicamore T Company, a theatrical company born from a blog by Shakespeare fanatics. Their project was to put on stage as protagonists various secondary and silent characters of the English comedy writer: this is how Rosaline – Like Dust and Fire came into being.

“I am a sister, not holy, one doesn’t automatically become so, for anyone it is necessary to live, to fall in love, to hate, to pass through thousands of traps, to bump one’s nose in a hundred cul de sacs, to take blind alleys, to emerge from them, to err, to let oneself be forgiven, then to err again, always taking risks, never hiding behind ready-made formulas, never avoiding the things that truly burn. The secret is taking risks, living and not letting oneself be intimidated by how painful one’s injuries are, not wasting time making comments, never getting lost in analyses, never stopping to calculate. Never make assessments balance sheets for they are trammels in your way, tears and blood, but above all never tire of taking risks”.

Guidi’s one-act play was finally staged in March at L’Istrione Theatre in Catania and on 22 April in Verona, in the context of the Shakespeare Festival 2018. It should be coming to Rome after the summer. Under the direction of Michele Giovanni Cesare (class 1980), it is Giovanna Mangiù, a young actress who is not a believer who gives a face and a body to Rosaline in a meticulous and most effective interpretation. To give a contemporary note to the monologue and to forestall schmaltz and sentimentality, electronic music by the Mexican composer Murcof was chosen as a soundtrack. E. Cesari, showing that he was perfectly attuned to the author, added to the text – as well as a video – passages by Pirandello and poetry by Khalil Gibran, Meister Eckhart and Rilke.

At the end Guidi’s Rosaline reveals the name she chose when she entered the convent. She is now Mother Veronica, which means “true image”. “All the rest you can also forget”, the religious tells the audience, “but remember this: I am not “someone who ruined her life by becoming a sister”, I am Veronica, a true image of what exists now and what will come afterwards”. 

Giulia Galeotti




St. Peter’s Square

Nov. 21, 2019