FTA Review: Shared laughter and suffering in “Quasi Niente”


(Photo: Claudia Pajewski)

“This would be so much easier if we were performing a play that had a plot! A play that fit into a genre! One that begins with a long stage direction that makes directors sigh because it is impossible to do.” So do lament the characters of Daria Deflorian and Antonio Tagliarini’s Quasi Niente, because who could possibly want to watch a show about miserable people who have no story? The answer: absolutely everyone.

Quasi Niente is based on the 1964 movie “Red Desert” by Michelangelo Antonioni. Long-time collaborators Deflorian and Tagliarini created the piece out of a mutual love for the film and a particular interest in its main character Giuliana – a wife, a mother, a depressive. In this stage adaptation, five characters, five modern-day Giulianas speak of their own depression. The tone is sincere and understated; emoting and overacting is of no interest to Deflorian and Tagliarini, and trying to read a character who does not telegraph their every thought and feeling is far more engaging anyway.

Three women, two men, aged from their thirties to “almost sixties”, share an experience that transcends age, gender, class, sexuality… On a minimal set of a few odd pieces of furniture thrown aside, with a bit of music, a bit of dancing, and a lot of mystique, these characters weave together a painfully accurate picture of the human experience in all its light and all its darkness. And yet, for a show that delves so deeply into depression, Quasi Niente is surprisingly comical. “Talk about depression, yes, but don’t present a depressing show”, says Deflorian. And so they do. What’s most impressive is how they manage to make it funny while also making sure it is never trivialized. The audience laughs not in mockery, but in solidarity. We laugh because we relate, we laugh so that we don’t cry, and in that way all suffering is laughable. From the frustration of never quite being able to fix a broken armchair found in the trash to the shame of confessing that you don’t go to the gym, or even own a yoga mat – the scandal! – it is plain to see that life is ridiculous and the people in it more ridiculous still.

The characters each in their own way have a certain fascination, perhaps even an obsession, with “Red Desert”. They think of it as “their movie”, one they have a unique personal connection to, but they are less alone than they think. We tend to isolate when we are feeling low, thinking ourselves uninteresting and unworthy of company. We feel so special in our pain, a pain so strange and so specific that surely no one but us has ever experienced it before; surely no one else is experiencing it right at this moment. If only we could see how wrong we are, how common depression is, and how treatable too. If anything, being okay is what would make us unrelatable. “Can I take your place?”, they ask as they take turns sitting in each other’s chair, walking in each other’s shoes. They try to find happiness through work, through reading, through sex… Through living life on the edge of their seat, always ready to jump into motion. They fill up their days with a multitude of tasks, and if – no, when they do crack, have a complete meltdown, bang their head against a wall, maybe throw a chair or two, they are quick to follow it up with a casual “but aside from that I’m okay. Good even. Way better than I was ten years ago. This is a good time in my life.” And they believe it too.

Timely in its subject matter and effective in its simplicity, Quasi Niente is a clever ode to the sufferings that isolate us when they could just as easily bring us together, a moving experience guaranteed to make audiences feel seen.

The 13th Annual Festival TransAmérique presents

Daria Defloriani + Antonio Tagliarini

May 23 + 24 at 8 p.m. + May 25 at 3 p.m.
1 h 30 m
In Italian with English and French surtitles

Usine C
1345, Avenue Lalonde

Box Office
514 844 3822 / 1 866 984 3822

Violette Kay

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