Impromptu Theatre in Rome


I just returned from a lovely trip to Rome. Everything they say about it is true–the art is unparalleled, the food delicious, and the people warm and friendly. Blah blah.

But that’s not what I want to talk about. During the trip, my camera got stolen. I’m really rather pissed about it; it was an expensive camera with about a week’s worth of pictures that I’ll never get back. I know exactly who took it, too. It was that old gypsy woman outside the Coliseum, a breeding ground for that dark and mysterious underclass that preys on the tourists that already pay their welfare checks. Yes— I’m upset, but on a certain level, I have to hand it to her: she stole, but she didn’t insider trade or work with fancy gadgets. She did it with pure skill and flair.

You see, I enjoy theater and musical performance thoroughly, and I believe that the advancement of any art requires constructive criticism. There is no doubt that thievery is, in fact, an art. It is in this spirit that I offer review and criticism of my most recent encounter:

Despite several key limitations, the anonymous performance I experienced a few weeks ago outside the Coliseum must ultimately be judged as a success: I no longer have my camera.

The venue was well-chosen. A street near a major tourist attraction, which guaranteed a lively and receptive crowd. At this point, I really had no idea what to expect, as the performance was extemporaneous in character. The work was to be praised for its audaciousness and vision, its experimental and profoundly interactive character. Yet, it is important to note its flaws.

The weakness of the piece was concentrated largely in its visual effects. I found that the blocking of how the solo performer sprung out from behind a row of parked cars to be trite and uninspiring. Her costume, a perfunctory swattling of rags, featured a feigned pregnancy to elicit sympathy and deflect suspicion. The mis-en-scene, which made liberal use of Roman litter and dirt, while existing as part of the overall mood of the scene, did little to create it. The principal prop in the short performance, a piece of cardboard, which she pushed up against the audience (myself) under which her hand entered my jacket pocket, served its purpose but bespoke little of genuine creativity.

There is little to which I might compare this piece, the latest from an anonymous gypsy woman, who might also have been responsible for the liberation of other cameras and wallets in the general area. If there is political or cultural commentary in this work, it is difficult to discern, but certainly subversive in character. Though sparing in its running time (a few seconds) and minimal in its dramatic content, the piece was rife with allusive thematic choices. It would be impossible, for example, to ignore the echoes of Dickens’ Fagin. I was left, also, with feelings of utter disbelief and bewilderment, a trademark absurdist and surrealist artists. And though intrinsically derivative by its very choice of genre, the performance managed to provide variations on a theme: I had had gloves stolen before, but never a camera.

The performer chose not to make herself available for comment after her act and has generally eschewed contact with the press, preferring rather to let the piece speak for itself. This work is playing on an indeterminate and open-ended schedule around Rome’s major tourist attractions until the Roman police catch on. Ultimately, it does not receive my wholehearted recommendation, as the experience was simply not worth the cost. 1.5 stars.

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