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A woman for women

Maryam, the play put on by Ermanna Montanari, directed by Marco Martinelli and based on a text by Luca Doninelli, is a liturgy made up of gestures, words, music and lights, which was created to give life to a single loud cry.

The staging is both moving and exciting in its essentiality. The music penetrates ones heart, mind and very bones. A woman is framed, almost imprisoned, by the play of light and by the superimposition of landscapes of war, lines with spikes, her skin embroidered with arabesque writing which screams, wounds evokes and rings out in the auditorium, thanks to the protagonist’s shimmering, ever crystal-clear voice. A woman alone on the stage, in an unassuming pose, set to the side, motionless yet powerful and protagonistic. Thus Ermanna Montanari gives body, almost annihilating herself, to a world of women.

The play puts on stage pain, incurable pain, that of a woman who loses her son, her brother and her friend. It is a universal pain which transcends barriers of culture, religion and colour. It is a pain which finds its cry in a prayer. This is what Maryam is: it is the cry, the prayer, which three women raise to another woman, Mary, the one with whom they can share their suffering, since she too experienced it. With Mary these women can bare themselves, they can reveal their whole truth, even to the point of wishing their enemy evil.

Maryam has been described as a “score in four movements”: three women who pray and a woman who has “com-passion” for them. Three Palestinian women raise their prayer to Mary, sharing with her their pain for the deaths of their children and brothers, deaths that are due to the injustice and horrors of the world. They are mothers who turn to her to ask for comfort or to cry out their rage, to claim revenge or simply to call for an answer as to the reason for war and violence. These women are: Zeinab, who asks for revenge for her friend Sharifa, raped and killed by her uncle, Intisar who must witness her mother going out of her mind after her father’s death in an attack and the death of her son as the aggressor, and who raises a prayer full of hatred, Dohuah who prays in Mary’s house and finds the only place in which she can bear the death of the sole miracle in her life, her son Alì. They invoke Mary as do so many women in the Muslim shrines of the Middle East, as the writer Luca Doninelli saw them doing in the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth; as he himself explains: “The idea of Maryam comes from afar, precisely from the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth which I visited in 2005 and 2006. There I saw the spectacle of an almost uninterrupted queue of Muslim women entering the Basilica to pay homage to Our Lady. This sight struck me because of the solemnity and confident certainty which these women transmitted to me

On the stage the three women are voices before they are bodies, they are words taken on by the one imploring voice, bitter and full of rage but also sweet and melodious, of Montanari who is responsible for playing all the roles, including the final role of Mary. “Being mothers is what unites Mary with these women”, the actress says, “and this relationship can be the way in which to face the great questions of our time. It gives us the possibility to grasp a point of renascence in a world of death”. The three women pray different prayers and yet deep down their prayers resemble each other: the women mingle rage, love and fear, they speak words expressing gratitude, requests for help and also for the courage to get through on their own, they almost always pray for others and their prayers have a common depth which goes beyond the religion to which they belong. They turn to Mary, to a woman who is like them, and sometimes this is sometimes the only possibility for women to find a place in which they can exist.

Zeinab, Intisar and Dohuar seek answers which can bring a truce to their inconsolable tears: gratuitous violence, suicidal ideological insanity and the loss of a son reawaken the ancestral and uncontainable voice of vengeance, which seems to be the inevitable outcome of each one of these three prayers. From Mary they await words that will embrace them and fill the painful emptiness of the loss of all hope, from her they expect the answer to the great original mystery which dwells within them, the mystery of suffering which appears to be inseparable from creation.

The final word – which in itself bears an answer, to which however there is no answer – is left to Mary. Mary comes into view empty handed, she has listened but can give no answers, she does not have any. Here Mary is first and foremost a woman, she is familiar with suffering and shares with these women the pain and mystery of a love brimming with tears and pain which not even God can redeem In fact Mary tells the women: “I have never forgiven God for having made my Son die even if he is risen, even if he dwells in glory for ever. This wound is left intact, God knows it and makes no demands for forgiveness. And further: “If I had been able to work the miracle of removing my Son from the cross, what would I be for you today? That lucky, blessed woman! You would say this of me unlovingly. But instead you love me and I love you with a love unknown to killers and grave-diggers, to high priests and judges”.

She who listens and suffers for all, can have the last word: a word of compassion and sharing to tell of its existence, only the possibility of being shared. “The mystery that embraces the whole universe: the omnipotence of Love, which is at the same time the impotence of Love” She herself who witnessed, powerless, the death of her Son (“I who could do nothing...”) comes to set herself as a bridge-figure between the different religions to mean that a meeting between them is not only possible but is within the reach of those who can listen. Mary, the figure of this meeting, bears within herself the mystery of the folly of evangelical love, a woman among women, she contains within herself the depths of the mystery of human love which precisely today is so violently and dramatically disfigured by the evil of war.

And like her, the women have no answers, they do not even seek forgiveness, these women have as an answer com-passion, the sharing which draws people together, offers closeness and builds bridges. 

Elisa Zamboni




St. Peter’s Square

Feb. 18, 2020