Critica di Paul Thomas a ” Pilatus”

Dear Maurizio,

It’s great to get the chance to do some literary criticism once more and to feel involved in something more specifically cultural. It makes me appreciate (and remember) just how what I call “culture” is important for my soul.

One qualification to my comments. My knowledge of Italian is a severe limit on any criticism I may make of your play, above all because it might have prevented me from understanding elements of coherence, cohesion, continuity and communicability in a play, which was far more complex than the “house of 4”.

Please do not take this as an attempt to be modest, because the alleyway into your play for me is through these “c” concepts.

Exactly because here you are trying to construct a definite plot with specific characters any sound criticism of your work must come through an attempt to understand:

  • If this plot was clear to the audience

  • The relationship between the characters

First some positive things.

Taken separately I found the scene with Miriam touching, I liked the word play, the different monologues of Pilatus, il matto, Erinni…As I’ve said to you in the past it is clear you have a rich imagination, an admirable sensibility and a lively sense of humour, which could create an excellent balance with any purely dramatic elements. All of this is bursting at the seams to get out, but all of which is suffocated by an overbearing intellect. Beware of the intellect! The intellect is sketchy, gist-ful & wistful, pretentious and lazy, because it thinks it can summarise meaning and at the same time communicate it fully – which it cannot. It can only summarise, that is all. You do not want to summarise your play, you want to write a play.

I will give you some very brief examples of this.

  • The character, really more the nature, of Dionysius is fundamental to the play. His playfulness, his hedonism, his vital energy, not to mention other more instinctual and violent aspects of him that he has been transformed into in the past. I’m not sure if you can fully do him justice just by making him a playful boy, excluding eroticism and violence, but, ok, if you want to do that…(incidentally I think the actor was a problem here, with his little white hat he reminded me more of a worker in a mozzarella factory than anything else) However, what is the main meaning that is communicated here? That he is a figure that we (our culture) have emarginated in some way, it is wrong and dangerous to do this, and men of power fear him because he can break up their autocracy. That is, it is a purely moral lesson. Perhaps you think you can change the repression of Dionysius by making such a lesson. However, I would disagree with you. This is an example of the intellect working here. What is this vital energy that he represents? If people are not aware of this aspect of their natures how can you evoke, recreate it on a stage in front of them, so they see something that otherwise will remain mostly hidden? How can you bring out what is hidden? To fully communicate how it is dangerous, mortally catastrophic or whatever, to repress Dionysius, would take a whole play turning on how these characteristics work in human beings and how we attempt to “control” them. For example, do you use a plot within a single family, or group of friends, or as an individual challenging a whole society (as a lot of Greek tragedy does). What is more dominant for you: Dionysius or Dioniso, the god or the man? You, I think, Maurizio, would answer the god, for me it is the people.

  • Another example, you talked to me about your Macbeth quote. The perception that the wood is green energy that comes to Macbeth bringing him doom. This is an original creative perception, but if you read critical and intellectual writings they are full of these fine perceptions, however it is another matter to transform them into a part of a work of art. In your play how can the audience understand this is what you are implying? Do you use the image of Birnam wood as a dramatic metaphor illustrated by something the characters actually do or does it remain more a quotation than anything else? If you think of the original play perhaps you see it in more symbolic terms, but generally this is not how Shakespearean tragedy is seen, and with good reason. To what point can an experience which is prevalently subjective for the writer be a valid part of a work of art?

  • Dionysius returns to Miriam after 3 years. He enters rather matter-of-factually explains he needs to stay for a while, says don’t you remember I explained to you why I went away, silly girl, finds it amusing that she might be jealous and tells her she can’t understand…I tell you Maurizio, Dionysius non se ne frega niente di Miriam.

  • I think the knowledge you use from your professional life as a doctor tries to get through quite a bit, and I find it interesting when you do (Dionysius’s comment about life in the hospital and how he was released, the dialogues of the “matti” at the beginning). Why not set the play in a hospital ward and show how Dionysian energy is mistreated and how the situation becomes destructive… (not The Master and Margarita, but One flew over the cuckoo’s nest). This would give it greater continuity. In my opinion, an audience needs a specific sense of place and the time that elapses, of course the one place where human beings tend to believe they can live outside time and place is the intellect.

  • Men of power are not noted for their ability to repent or to become suddenly aware of themselves, one can imagine that just on this theme alone a whole play could be dedicated. Pilatus has had 3 years, but what’s happened to him in the meantime to cause his change? In Greek tragedy the full motivations of the characters are always made clear, the terrible suffering that leads to hate and revenge, the intolerable sense of shame that the characters had to bear, the social vilification, how revenge can be transformed into just retribution, whether it can or not. Even the minor characters are shown briefly to be human beings, the watchman who for 10 years has had to keep guard waiting for the sign of a single sail on the horizon.

These are some of my reactions, I think you would benefit a lot from showing the play to more audiences and getting reactions from some Italian critics, who without a doubt would respond to its abstractness in a different way than me.

I hope my comments will be of help and provoke more insights in the future, but I warn you the theme of communicability for me is fundamental and tends to turn me into a taciturn creature, because I think it is very difficult for individuals to communicate meaningfully. Sharing experiences is better, which I think you must be drawn to, otherwise why would you want to write for the theatre, a medium that more than any other is made to involve people in a common experience.

Kindest regards, Paul.


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