Review: "The Gummy Bears' Great War" Merits Your Unconditional Surrender

The Gummy Bears' Great War (La grande guerra degli Orsetti Gommosi)

Written and directed by Angelo Trofa

Presented by Batisfera

May 10, 2023 at Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimò at NYU, 24 W 12th St, Manhattan, NYC

May 13, 2023 at Culture Lab LIC, 5-25 46th Ave, Queens, NYC

L to R: Raspberry Red, Lemon Yellow, and Apple Green. Photo by Sabina Murru.
Tragic dignity is probably not the first phrase that one would associate with gummy bears, but it may make the shortlist after seeing The Gummy Bears' Great War (La grande guerra degli Orsetti Gommosi), which injects a certain amount of perhaps unexpected gravitas into its often humorous tale. Part of the humor is inherent to the scenario that the show puts forward wherein a nation of animate candy bears declares war on a nation of dinosaurs that appears to boast a robust bureaucratic state. The Gummy Bears' Great War, performed in Italian with English supertitles, is presented this month as part of the 2023 In Scena! Italian Theater Festival, taking place throughout NYC's five boroughs from May 1st through 16th, with free admission to all events. In a short talkback following the show, writer and director Angelo Trofa said that one of the aims with The Gummy Bears' Great War was to do something that would be thought impossible to do in and as theater, and with this production, theater company Batisfera, of which Trofa is a co-founder, has certainly and admirably succeeded.
Photo by Sabina Murru.
The show sets the scene with a pre-recorded narration, describing the awakening of the Gummy Bear nation from a long quiescence to a decision to go to war that is both hopeless and without reason. Following this prologue, performers Valentina Fadda (co-founder with Trofa of Batisfera) and Leonardo Tomasi take over the narration, as the bears prepare for their all-but-assured defeat and destruction. Although there is a certain absurdity to, say, dialogue about the warrior qualities of a Gummy Bear named Lemon Yellow, there is also a poetic quality to the descriptions, enhanced by the repeated invocations of color in reference to the different bears, whose resolve bears more than a touch of melancholy. In the next scene, Fadda and Tomasi shift from puppeteering (if that is the correct word) the ursine sweets to acting as two of the dinosaurs on whom the Gummy Bears have declared war. The reptilian pair of inveterate bureaucrats are very funny, stamping paperwork in rhythmic tandem as they trade lines, though the Gummy Bear ambassador whom they encounter no doubt finds them significantly less amusing. From there, the chapters of the play alternate between the bears and the dinosaurs as they prepare for the battlefield on which the show concludes, with one last chance for the bears to back down.  
L to R: Valentina Fadda, Angelo Trofa, and Leonardo Tomasi. Photo courtesy Batisfera.
The encounter between the ambassador and the dinosaurs creates a real sense of scale because we otherwise see the dinos and bears separately rather than in juxtaposition. Events play out on and at a table, with the bears' scenes cleverly lit by a variety of smaller hand-held or tabletop lights, smartly shrinking and focusing the audience's area of perception via the surrounding darkness. The lighting design, by Luca Carta, employs flashlights, colored light bars, strobing effects, and more to effectively draw spectators into the world of the show's translucent, 2-cm-tall cast. The narrative itself, which builds to a poignant, impassioned climax, leaves plenty of room for interpretation: How much is admirable in the Gummy Bears' decision? How much is (self-)destructive romanticization? Tiny bears, it seems, can still raise big questions.

-John R. Ziegler and Leah Richards

More from our 2023 In Scena! coverage:
Review: The Phenomenal "Mubarak's Niece" Connects Across Cultures

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