Review: The Barbarity of Prison Extends Beyond Its Walls in "The Visit"

The Visit (Il colloquio)

Written and directed by Eduardo Di Pietro

Presented by Collettivo lunAzione at Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimo’ at NYU, Manhattan, NYC on May 8, 2024, at 8 pm and BAAD! Bronx Academy of Art and Dance, Bronx, NYC, on May 9, 2024, at 7:30 pm

Alessandro Errico, Marco Montecatino, and Renato Bisogni. Photo by Malì Erotico
The harm caused by the prison-industrial complex is not limited to those whom it incarcerates. Family and loved ones also suffer from a system that leaves, for instance, shattered families and parentless children as its byproducts. It is some of these individuals, caged in their own way by the sentences of loved ones, that The Visit (Il colloquio) brings to the stage. Eduardo Di Pietro, who conceived and directs the play, trained as a director, playwright, and anthropologist, and, drawing on all of those roles, the show's creation involved both substantial collaboration with the actors and a series of interviews with women deeply impacted by the penal system. The production, presented in Italian with English supertitles, is part of the 2024 In Scena! Italian Theater Festival, which runs from April 29th to May 13th at multiple venues throughout the five boroughs (BAAD!, the Bronx venue where we attended The Visit, is celebrating its 25th year and hosts several festivals of its own) and offers free admission to all events. Inspired by the admission system for weekly meetings with persons who are incarcerated at the Poggioreale prison in Naples, The Visit movingly, and with dashes of humor, captures both the reality and surreality of its three characters’ intensely challenging circumstances.
Alessandro Errico, Renato Bisogni, and Marco Montecatino. Photo by Malì Erotico
These circumstances encompass not only the emotional, financial, and other struggles of the characters' lives without the presence of their incarcerated loved ones but also the process of merely waiting in line outside the prison for the titular visit. The three characters are all women and are all played by men, suggesting, among other possibilities, the use of men's voices where women's are usually ignored, as well as the idea that these women must take on both the male and female roles in their families, acting, as one of them puts it, as both mother and father (and more). The actors ritualistically apply lipstick to begin the show and step into these roles: Maria (Marco Montecatino), the oldest of the trio, there to visit her son; a woman who has acquired the nickname "Iron Heart" (Renato Bisogni), whose two children have almost never seen their father; and Pina (Alessandro Errico), who is relatively new to the line–the other two women see each other more or less every week–and has not been able to get inside in the three months that her husband has been imprisoned so far. The two more experienced women instruct Pina on matters such as what will not be allowed inside by the guards, the lack of official communication about the health or location of incarcerated persons, and the fact that the line brooks no bathroom breaks–and can even itself become a site of violence. While the women wait, we–and they–learn about Iron Heart's sacrifices, Maria's need to hustle to make money even while waiting in line, and Pina's harboring the remnants of her dream to act. At the same time, The Visit does not merely tell an uncomplicated story of bonding; what it offers is more nuanced and authentic than that, including in allowing its characters to be imperfect.

That time in the line never seems to move past 6:30 am overlays the proceedings with an appropriately Kafkaesque atmosphere; string music sometimes contributes as well, accentuating the action or marking a transition. Each costumed primarily in red and black, implying the commonalities of the characters' experiences even as their outfits reflect the differences, Montecatino, Bisogni, and Errico deliver marvelous performances, funny, fierce, and multifaceted–even their respective postures eloquently communicate their individual characters. Leading up to an affecting final tableau, those characters face some profound what-ifs; to answer a less complex hypothetical: if given a chance to see The Visit, follow these women's examples and get in line.

-John R. Ziegler and Leah Richards

More from the 2024 In Scena! Italian Theater Festival:

News: In Scena! Italian Theater Festival NY 2024 Announces Performance Schedule and Awards

Review: "Help Wanted" Needs No Help Making Feminist Motherhood Funny

Review: "Sciara - Prima c'agghiorna" Poignantly Presents a Little-Known Part of Women's History

Review: "The Great Magic" Casts an Entrancing Spell

Review: "Opera Buffa!" Orchestrates an Extended Aria of Absurdity


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