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Afghanistan’s great historical lesson on stage in Milan

by Renato Palazzi

Afghanistan: The Great Game, the new production staged by Milan’s Teatro dell’Elfo, provides a decided break from a so far rather low-key theatrical season. This new artistic venture will actually be staged in two parts – the first now, the second next year. Unusual in style and theme, characterized by the sweeping dramatic scope of Angels in America and the chronicling urgency of Frost/Nixon, Afghanistan is an anomaly that appeals and intrigues even beyond its obvious aesthetic quality.

Ferdinando Bruni and Elio De Capitani have staged the Italian version of a project that premiered at London’s Tricycle Theatre in 2009 – a theater specializing in highly political shows. Originally, the project consisted of thirteen plays by as many different authors; these were eventually reduced to eleven in what would be the final outcome of the two directors’ work: the goal was – and is – a colossal fresco of the history of Afghanistan from 1842 – year of the bloody revolt against British imperialism – to the present.

Why Afghanistan? Because it’s a strategic territory that held out against the English, the Russians, the Americans, was the cradle of the Taliban and the epicenter of some of the most disastrous conflicts of our time, which Italy is involved in with its missions.

Trying to understand Afghanistan, though – in other words, confronting the difficulties of truly comprehending it – is also useful to get a grasp on what happened in Iraq, in Syria, in the entire Middle East; and, thanks to the texts that introduce the action, to get a better perspective on the reasons behind so many massive waves of migrants and refugees seeking asylum in Italy and elsewhere in the world.

The show is sparsely set: the action takes place in an emblematic point of transit that, by turns, becomes a fortress, a palace hall, a battlefield. It goes right to the purpose, no frills, few objects, a few references to a certain type of Asian imagery, just simple curtains onto which portraits and landscapes are projected. A cast of eight actors – notably Leonardo Lidi, Enzo Curcurù, Claudia Coli – create twenty or so characters with commendable enterprise, though results do not always meet expectations.

(The Great Game: Afghanistan, directed by Ferdinando Bruni and Elio De Capitani, Milan, Teatro Elfo Puccini, until February 5th)