I was an extremely committed Pirandello groupie in my early post-secondary education. The first scene I performed in Cegep was from Six Characters in Search of an Author. I played the Stepdaughter and I was absolutely exhilarated by her. She so familiarly embodied the sex, repression and shame that thrive in the Mediterranean heat. I always imagined Sicily and Calabria to be the way I pictured this character: hot, tempting, sticky, constricted, under scrutiny, not quite a part of the unified European Italy (the stepdaughter and her family are “othered” in comparison to the legitimate actors who are real people). I revelled in the playwright’s authority. As a student, and for some time after graduation, I habitually took on a submissive role in the presence of male playwrights and directors. It was entirely unconscious. A relic of the land where my mother was born. A place where passion is so unbridled men must dictate the use of women’s bodies.
“In Greece, Spain, Italy, Turkey, Africa, Asia, and generally over all those hot countries, husbands try to keep their wives away from all communication with men lest they prove unfaithful to them” –Robert Burton, 17C British Scholar.
So, as I devoured every work by Pirandello I could get my hands on, reading them in English, Italian and Sicilian, I often came across the inevitable footnote. It would be in reference to a mentally ill character, or sometimes in reference to marriage. It would always be a variation on the following:
“Pirandello married, became the father of three and, because he thought it would be good to have a job for a time, accepted a post as a teacher at a girls’ school in Rome. When both his own family and his wife’s lost their money in a mining disaster, the job became a necessity and a bugbear. The drudgery of it became one of the two great burdens he had to carry.
The other was his wife, who went insane. Nor, for many years, was she taken off Pirandello’s hands and placed in a home. She persecuted him with an unprovoked and crazy jealousy.” -From Eric Bentley’s, Ed. Naked Masks
I always absorbed this information unquestioningly. Oh, Pirandello had a mad wife, I would think. Oh, that explains these characters. I obediently followed the path scholars had set for me: nothing to see here, move it along.
Pirandello wrote a lot about the relativity of truth. His play It is So…If You Think So is what first planted the seed for 8 Ways my Mother was Conceived in my mind. It was through my growth and experience around the entire process of writing that piece, of finding my voice and the voice of other women who had previously been silent, that I began to recall those footnotes.
From this new perspective, from the place my character speaks in 8 Ways when she says “I have no shame”, as a daughter who has been reintroduced to her own mother, and especially as a wife who learned via a series of fortunate mistakes that marriage is not a wedding day followed by procreation as my culture would have me believe, that love is in fact the opposite of complacency, that it is visceral and that it devours you alive, after all this I said, “She is not Pirandello’s mad wife. She is Maria Antonietta Portulano and she must speak.”
Michaela completed her Master’s Degree at the University of Toronto’s Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies and is a recipient of a MECCA award for Best Text (along with a Best Actress and Revelation nomination) and the Launchpad Award for Emerging Artists. She was last seen at Black Theatre Workshop in the staged reading of Andrea Scott’s Eating Pomegranates Nakedat Black Theatre Workshop. At the Saputo Theatre, she played Rosa in Tennesse Williams’ The Rose Tattoo. Michaela has been performing her one-woman show 8 Ways my Mother was Conceived in Toronto, Montreal and New York City. Its next stops will be in Hudson, Ottawa and then back to Montreal at Leonardo Da Vinci Centre. Some of her roles include Saura in Titus Andronicus, Jaya Patel in The Arrangement, Mariedl in Werner Schwab’s Holy Mothers and the Young Woman in Mike Bartlett’s My Child. Feature film credits include Beatrice in Blame it on Obama (2012) and Joni’s Agent in Too Tall (2013). TV credits include Psych Out, Fatal Vows and A Stranger in My Home.