Review: “Little Funerals” Reimagines Collective Mourning Rituals

Little Funerals (Piccoli Funerali)

Written by Maurizio Rippa

Performed by Maurizio Rippa (voice) and Amedeo Monda (guitar)

Presented by 369gradi

May 11, 2023 at BAAD! Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance, 2474 Westchester Ave, The Bronx, NY

May 12, 2023 at Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimò at NYU, 24 W 12th St, New York, NY

May 13, 2023 at Snug Harbor Cultural Center, 1000 Richmond Terrace, Staten Island, NY

Maurizio Rippa and Amedeo Monda (guitar). Photo courtesy 369gradi
Maurizio Rippa’s Little Funerals began with the writer and performer’s explanations of its origins in his dissatisfaction with the traditional, Catholic funerals that are standard in his native Italy. Regardless of the age of the deceased or the manner in which they died, the funerals are all the same, he explained via translation by the In Scena! Italian Theater Festival's artistic director Laura Caparrotti. This lack of ability to personalize the ritual for collective mourning led to his creation of Little Funerals, part spoken word, part song, but, according to Rippa, neither play nor musical performance.

Rippa’s performance, accompanied by Amedeo Monda on the guitar, alternated brief monologues in which he spoke in the voice of the dead, performed in English, with songs, sung mostly in Italian. Rippa’s simplistic black trousers and tunic provided the neutral backdrop onto which he projected a wide range of voices of all genders and ages with a sense of the pathos and absurdity of life’s final moments, often both at the same time. For example, one vignette told the story of an older man nearly reunited with a first love only to be the victim of a hit and run accident as he was crossing the street to meet her at a café. The tragedy of this failed reunion was punctuated by the final words he heard as he lay dying on the pavement—the automated voice of the GPS in the car that had hit him.
Maurizio Rippa. Photo courtesy 369gradi
Rippa’s poignant and wry delivery of his spoken lines was complemented by his outstanding sung performance. His powerful countertenor, coupled with the virtuosity of Monda’s guitar playing, evoked Baroque lute songs. The urban bucolic setting of Casa Italiana’s outdoor terrace was a perfect backdrop for these songs, evoking the intimate settings of lute song performance. The occasional ambient street noise and bird song, rather than detracting from the performance, only served as reminder of the quotidian nature of grief, that while one person grieves, the rest of the world carries on as normal.

The final vignette memorialized someone whose name was forgotten, truly the most tragic of all deaths. At this point, Rippa invited audience members to write the name of a departed loved one on an index card and come forward to place it in a wooden box. While this audience participation could have become saccharine or trite, it instead became a moving collective ritual that nearly everyone in attendance shared in. It brought the production back to Rippa’s explanation at the beginning regarding his dissatisfaction with traditional funerals. Although Little Funerals predates the COVID-19 pandemic, it is perhaps especially apt in its aftermath, recalling the time in which all mourning was by necessity solitary. While traditional mourning rituals may be found wanting, clearly there is still a need to mourn collectively.

-Stephanie Pietros


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