THEATRE_Natale in casa de cupiello by Eduardo de Filippo

"My comedies are always tragic, they even make you laugh".

Eduardo De Filippo

If you want to see a serious play about family, go and see Natale in casa de Cupiello; a classic by Eduardo De Filippo masterfully staged by Oriol Broggi. I'm serious, and that's why you're going to laugh out loud from the first minute until the final scene, the climax of which redefines everything that has been happening on stage.

A Christmas dinner brings together, under the same roof, all the members of the Cupiello family: the father, the mother, the eldest daughter married to a solvent husband, the father's silly uncle brother who lives with them, the caretaker, the maid and even the daughter's crazy love, who appears unexpectedly by mistake as a friend of the youngest son: a smart little thief and the king of the mother.

You can imagine the play perfectly well, because the Cupiello family is not a family, it is The Family, it is its structure as such, and strictly speaking, the only subject of the play. Its immobile stage is the walls of the family home, and inside it, all its members make noise, shout, fight, move, break dishes... but without any of it having any transcendental value. 

It simply doesn't matter. It doesn't matter in the slightest what happens to each of them, because each of them embodies a piece of the structure. That is why their characters are emptied of their strictest singularity: they are incarnations of a role, of a role perfectly designed in the structure. The mother, the father, the son and the daughter are taken for their place in the family machinery. 

Each one believes he is acting according to his desires: the daughter believes she loves a man other than the husband she wishes to run away with, the son believes he is very different from the father, and certainly smarter, the father believes he transmits his values... (and finally we will see that he does indeed transmit something) but all this is insignificant. 

The power of the logical consistency of The Family -not even this one in particular- is going to make what they think they each believe they are wishing for, worthless in the slightest. The only thing that matters is that it is Christmas and that, as every year, as always, they will be together. In the plot, a situation arises that seems to threaten her: the daughter wants to elope with her beloved, but everyone works to prevent it, and indeed, they succeed. The son and the uncle would also like to run away, but they won't, nothing will happen: The Family is always stronger. This genial impossibility of escape shows us that the dividing line between the individual and the social is fictitious, since The Family, the structure, rather than being something imposed on human beings, forms part of the most intimate constitution of subjectivity.

Humour is always an affection that takes me by surprise. I admit that laughing always catches me off guard, and sometimes satisfaction and anguish are not as far apart as it might seem... It was Freud who illuminated the deep connections of humour with the superego, with that moral instance of the psyche which, thanks to the stellar participation of unconscious guilt, pushes us to put aside our unconscious desires for the sake of something higher, more serious and important. But it also cleared up that, far from taking us away from jouissance, it immersed us fully in it. Hence the humorous effect behind the staging of the family structure insofar as it is so powerful that it cannot produce pain or sorrow. In a way, what The Family evokes demands a greater defense: we distance ourselves from personal misery by laughing at the misery of others, as a way of raising a barrier. This is why the play is not so much a comedy as a tragicomedy, and why, after Freud, humour must be taken very seriously.

The death of the father in the final scene - I apologise for explaining the denouement, but it was unavoidable -shows it in action: after the perpetual laughter -also to the credit of its brilliant performance- its disappearance moves us. Because although this rather disappointing character, unable to see anything that is happening, busy building a ridiculous manger, with no notable ambitions and the point of confluence of all the disappointments of his beloved wife, not to mention those of his son, this character, at the moment of passing away, will leave the living the task of continuing to ensure the support of his function. All will honour, respect and imitate the Father. Hence the surprising transformation of the son at the bedside of his dying father, and that is why the father, before he dies, needs the oath of his daughter to guarantee the perpetuity of the family: no matter who the chosen man is.

This classic work masterfully illuminates the structural power of the paternal function, since what it conveys is not a message with a specific content, not what is right and what is wrong, but something much stronger: the reassurance, through its roles, of the perpetuity of the family structure in the life of human beings, for ever and ever.

Irene Domínguez