Review: "Persona Metropolitana" Sways to the Rhythms of Urban Life

Persona Metropolitana

Written by Annachiara Vispi and Giulia Macrì

Music and Composition by Lorenzo Saini

Presented in collaboration with Dominio Pubblico at NOoSPHERE Arts on May 11, 2024, at 6 pm and at Playwrights Downtown on May 12, 2024, at 3 pm

Giulia Macrì. Photo by Elena Costa.
Some moments in Persona Metropolitana when dancer Giulia Macrì performs within inches of the audience put one briefly in mind of the “It's Showtime” performers on the NYC subway, who similarly combine impressive athleticism and exquisite physical control–and who similarly embody how denizens of cities share and repurpose tight space, shaping them to their needs, including to make art. Of course, these spaces also shape the people who inhabit and endlessly traverse them, and it is this multi-directional dynamic that Persona Metropolitana explores through a captivating combination of sound, video, dance, and narration. Persona Metropolitana is appearing in NYC as part of the 2024 In Scena! Italian Theater Festival, which runs from April 29th to May 13th at multiple venues throughout the five boroughs, in collaboration with Dominio Pubblico, an Italian theater project for people under 25; and New Yorkers will, for better and worse, immediately recognize the urban existence in cities from New York to London to Paris to Berlin to Rome and beyond that the show evokes and interrogates.

The similarity in those various existences suggests a comforting cosmopolitan commonality that simultaneously evinces the transnational homogenization imposed by globalized capitalism. The show notes early on, in narration by actor Valentina Ghelfi, the prediction that almost 70% of people will live in cities by 2050. Macrì embodies the exemplary city dweller, Guilia, who ponders (we hear from Ghelfi, as Macrì remains expressively silent throughout) such growth and the feelings that she already experiences of not having enough space–literally and otherwise. The production uses transit as its primary lens for these considerations, and Ghelfi opens the show by asking the audience how they got there and how long it took them (another set of questions about ending up in, belonging to, and staying or leaving a city come significantly later, not quite a bookend). Two short facing rows of chairs stand in at times for seats on public transportation, and the early choreography implies some of the hectic feeling of getting around via trains, trams, subways, and buses. Giulia sometimes finds herself people-watching from such a seat (while the people watch their phones), and with the video footage from various cities projected on a large screen behind the performers, one may sometimes, in an extra touch of immersion, be briefly drawn into doing so oneself.

If the show worries about the speed of modern life, the movement towards megacities, even the way that the Roman underground's score-bearing horoscopes feel like the city "keeping score," it also recognizes that at the same time that city living can make someone feel tiny and crushed, it can also make that same person feel huge, part of something much bigger–including temporally. Among the positives of urban life, captured at one point in an evocative list of experiences that includes both the freedom conferred by invisibility and the sense of community created by being a regular somewhere, Persona Metropolitana conceives of cities as second-hand things, passed down and adapted through generations, asking us to imagine how people's habits become norms that define individual cities. The tensions between the alienation and empowerment of living in cities is encapsulated in the shift in the (terrific) choreography from the show's beginning to its end. Early on, Macrì frequently leans, as if pulled, sometimes by Ghelfi's words, around the four sides of an invisible box, her pace and direction often interrupted; while at the end of the show, she exudes control and takes up however much space she wants with confident movement and sweeping arm gestures. Ghelfi's narration gives the effect of a prose poem, and when complemented by the (primarily electronic) musical sections, the effect can become that of an audio collage, in which, at some moments, Ghelfi uses her voice as another instrument. The almost hypnotic repetitions in some of these moments act as just one more reflection of urban dwellers constantly criss-crossing their cities and carving out and circulating within the contours of their individual and collective routines. Most New Yorkers will recognize themselves in Persona Metropolitana's Giulia–but few could express the pleasures and pressures of their metropolitan lives with such terpsichorean skill.

-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

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

Review: "Like a Little Grain of Sand" Explores an Enormous Injustice

Review: "The Genesis of Regeneration" Spins a Hilarious Yarn

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