Mauro Danesi

By Irene Serini, with Irene Serini and Caterina Simonelli, video animations by Anna Resmini, lights and sound Caterina Simonelli. IF Prana production, in collaboration with Olinda Residenza Artistica.

‘Each of us is a prism, a sphere, is mobile, and, below and beyond the current contradictions that oppose and deny us, each potentially matches the other’ 

Mario Mieli

The philosophical thought of Mario Mieli (1952-1983), the intellectual among the founders of the Italian homosexual movement in the early 70s and author of the essay ‘Elements of homosexual criticism’ published in those years by Einaudi, was revolutionary, prismatic and multifaceted. As is the brilliant theatrical research work that Irene Serini is dedicating to him. The actress has chosen to explore Mieli’s thoughts and words in five projects to be developed over five years: each show is called a ‘Studio’, precisely because these plays are part of a research project: each appears as a different door that allows entry into a world of reflections. None of these are far from us, but Mieli’s thought is still burning and current, embodied and close to all of us.

Abracadabra is a spell, because it still seems magical to be able to recognise the presence of masculine and feminine elements in each of us, to overcome categories and divisions in pre-established and immovable sexual orientations. Is it possible to go beyond the binary with which we separate the world, unite opposites to free ourselves from borders? Is it possible to regain the freedom of nuances in our changing identities? The Serini Studios are all apparently ‘non-standard’ shows: in the first three the audience is arranged in a circular fashion around the actress, involved in the whirlwind of the theatrical game. In the last one, Studio #4, which debuted in October 2020 at the Teatro Litta in Milan, the audience is back in its seats, but another recurring element remains: the constant meta-theatrical game that subverts the structure of the scene. Something is represented during every moment, but the theatrical game of mirrors between audience and artists, which is part of the structure of the show, is also shown. Editing is also part of this continuous estrangement: it is not linear and a story is not told, rather a series of linked stimuli are offered with which everyone can build their own. All the words used in Abracadabra are calibrated, dense and never random arrows, but rather precisely targeted.

In Studio #4 in particular, language becomes the main focus and protagonist in a sequence of the opening monologue that is repeated but with the closing vowels of the words simply changed. The masculine is thus transformed into feminine, but it is clear to the whole audience that not only the gender is changed, but a whole context of meanings and sense. As Cecilia Robustelli writes, ‘there is a close link between the use of language and the social disparity of power’: in this scene we perceive it clearly, feeling it before understanding it rationally. We feel under our skin all the annoyance towards the current cultural inertia that still means that, in our language, a false neutrality is attributed to the masculine. This changes the meaning of the words and above all replicates the hierarchies of power that try to bring the female back to a position of inferiority, despite all the social challenges and the progress made over the years. We know well that ‘the things that are not named do not exist’, and it is therefore necessary ‘to know the words that express the changes taking place from the point of view of equality and the recognition of difference. It is necessary to define things with their name, which in Italian is always declined with respect to gender.’ In this scene, as in much of the work, Abracadabra acts by showing us the contradictions that enclose us, from the inequalities of power to the cultural constraints established over the years. Not only that: it also shows us the cracks in these structures, the opening of possibilities for change and paths to freedom. The same cracks that, metaphorically, open up in Anna Resmini‘s animated drawings that illuminate the scene like a continuous counterpoint in Studio #4.

Throughout her career, Irene Serini has managed to convey the most intimate core of Mario Mieli’s much discussed and counter-current thinking: a profound investigation of human desire. This is a different fire for each of us, but for everyone it is a terrain to explore and in which to free often unconsciously locked-in taboos, limitations, fears. One of the most valuable functions of culture is to provide critical tools for us to bring back into our daily lives: Abracadabra manages to do so, reconfirming how theatre is a necessity and not just superfluous entertainment.