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

Sciara - Prima c'agghiorna

Written by Luana Rondinelli

Directed by Giovanni Carta

Performed by Luana Rondinelli and I Musicanti (Gregorio Caimi - guitar, Enzo Toscano - cello, Debora Messina - singer)

Presented by I Musicanti at CIMA-Center For Italian Modern Art, Manhattan, NYC on May 1, 2024 at 7 pm and Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimo’ at NYU, Manhattan, NYC on May 3, 2024 at 8 pm

Debora Messina and Luana Rondinelli. Photo by Salvatore Sinatra
The global history of the labor struggle is an often violent one, and Sciara - Prima c'agghiorna, a play with music, tells a story from that history that is simultaneously tragic and inspiring. The play, the subtitle of which translates to "first of all," shines a spotlight on Francesca Serio (Luana Rondinelli), the first woman to denounce the mafia, in a formal complaint for the 1955 murder of her son, Salvatore Carnevale, who was a socialist activist and union agitator for workers' rights. Performed in Italian with English supertitles 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 and offers free admission to all events, Sciara - Prima c'agghiorna furnishes a movingly evocative call to remembrance and reminder that silence only helps the oppressors.

The show's basic structure alternates short scenes of dialogue from playwright Rondinelli as Serio with original songs from trio I Musicanti performed with voice, classical guitar, and cello. Amidst musical pieces that range from propulsive to hauntingly beautiful, Serio touches on the pain–and ecstasy–of giving birth to a child, her struggles as a single mother (Jachino, Salvatore's father, exhibits no interest in taking any responsibility for their son), and the perception of other laborers that she works too much like a man after Serio and her family move from their native Galati to the titular Sciara in search of a better chance to make a living. At a certain point, her son goes from middle schooler to soldier in the space of a few lines, and when he returns, he embarks on the path of political leadership, in the wake of Italy's land reform, that will lead to his murder after he refuses to be bought off by mafia, with whom the legal apparatus was complicit. Mother, however, like son, will not be silenced.

Sciara, Serio relates, can mean both "raw land" and "blazing lava," a duality with multiple potential resonances in the show. The black shawls worn by Rondinelli and Debora Messina, to take one instance, are variously used to signify mourning and to represent newborn infants. Serio herself might be described as blazing in her mien when during a song about liberty, she for the first time does not turn her back to the audience during a musical interlude. Moments of humor in the production sit alongside visceral imagery such as Serio's wild wish to ingest her dead son's bones and reincorporate him into her body. Between lines about the pain of birth that bookend the show, I Musicanti wonderfully complement Rondinelli's powerful, passionate performance. Sciara - Prima c'agghiorna will continue to tour, with performances at venues including schools, to bring well-deserved attention to its important story of motherhood and resistance.

-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

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