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An emotional play by one of Italy's greatest dramatists
Liolà was written by Luigi Pirandello (1867-1936), who won the Nobel Prize for literature in the early twentieth century. The play has been described as 'light-hearted', 'emotional', and 'touching', adjectives that are in sharp contrast to a story that involves barrenness, infidelity, domestic abuse, and even a knife attack.
The play, which takes place in Sicily, features a cast of all Irish actors along with an on-stage folk band that plays a selection of rousing gypsy tunes. It is perhaps the convivial Irish accents and the fast-paced music and dance performances that bring 'light-heartedness' to an otherwise heavy play with few redeeming characters.
The play begins with a lively village dance set under the shadow of an enormous illuminated tree. The opening scene is joyous until a bare-foot, scarcely-dressed woman (reminiscent of Hamlet's Ophelia in Act 4, Scene 5) enters the stage with her hair purposely obscuring her face. She is Mita, the unfortunate wife of Simone, a rich old man who angrily blames her for not having children and heirs for his fortune. She performs a wild, whirling dance to convey her unhappiness and then admits to the audience 'I have no children, that's why they make me dance'.
The title character, Liolà, is a genial, free-spirited father of three boys all by different mothers. He has left his children to be raised by his own mother and he roams the country doing what he pleases. However, he is kind to his boys when he arrives in the village and clearly cares about them. Another girl falls pregnant by Liolà, who then convinces Simone to pretend that the child is his so that he will have an heir. Mita is enraged and turns to Liolà to have a child of her own. Rory Keenan, who plays Liolà, captures the bravado of the character, but also lends some humour to a play that is full of heartache and weeping, shrieking women.
The play runs for about 1.5 hours without an interval. The loose threads of the drama are hardly resolved by the end of the play and it ends somewhat abruptly with a song and Liolà shrugging and stating 'that's how it is'.