THEATRE_Questi fantasmi by Eduardo de Filippo: love and ghosts

In these summer days and until 25 July you can see, at the Biblioteca de Catalunya, the play "Questi Fantasmi" by Eduardo de Filippo, masterfully staged by the company directed by Oriol Broggi. Here are a few lines from my encounter with it.

The central hall of a haunted house will serve as the stage for this amusing and endearing story to take us, through comedy, into something that borders on and interweaves the very nature of love; to speak to us of the always impossible encounter between man and woman. A true ghost story.

The ghost stories come to meet Pasquale, a man very attentive to take advantage of the opportunities that life throws his way to get out of the misery and greyness of the men of his time. He is an optimist-opportunist. Taking advantage of the village legends, he accepts a deal to live, without paying a penny, in a haunted mansion in exchange for performing a daily ritual to show the inhabitants of an unmentionable place that he is not afraid of them; that the house will be inhabited again.

He has plans: he will set up a business there to exploit tourism in the area. However, a legend lives in the atmosphere: in ancient times, two lovers, discovered in their crime, were walled up in cement within the walls of one of the palace's innumerable rooms. Whether they believed it or not, the truth is that no one -not even the lifelong doorman- dares to be left alone inside. When this happens, all the characters resort to going out onto the balcony to talk to a professor in the neighbourhood, and thus appease, for a moment, their fear of the spectres. 

Fear is articulated in solitude. It is alone that the danger of the appearance of ghosts lurks. But this is a childish fear... the audience knows it; laughter breaks out, they run free, with the certainty that these are children's things.

So it all starts well: on the one hand, the haunted house and the ghosts, and on the other, the mundane story in the form of vaudeville, the love affairs at the couples' dances: a married couple, lovers, twin brothers and two brothers from the village: the doorman and a young foolish boy. Each character tells his own story: a husband wanting to offer his wife a future as a princess, a lover promising the same woman an escape that will allow them to live their love without limits..... Up to a certain point in the play, the frame is in place: we all see the same thing. 

Gradually, however, the harmless ghosts transform the frame from which we read reality, and it is precisely in this new scenario that we begin to see something of what is at stake in love: it is no longer so funny. In the final part, just when we thought we had all the elements in place, the two worlds -that of childhood fears and the vicissitudes of worldly love- intertwine to accompany us to the very edge of a central hole: the impossible that love harbours for human beings.

The person in love always has a ghost as a partner. That is why the woman embodies this presence par excellence. The silent protagonist, and in the end even invisible, she is the one that men imagine. That is why Pasquale and Alfredo do not share the same woman. That is why they need her to keep quiet, they ask her not to ask questions, not to want to know, they give her precise instructions on what to do, they always assume her to be where they imagine her to be. And in order for the woman to continue to be the woman they dream of, her "not wanting to know" is the essential condition for keeping her as the most precious object of their desire.

Just in case we had any doubts, María also allows us to get a closer look at the other characters' version of the woman: the doorman's is particularly brutal, it is clear that for him, love is of a different nature; he offers it to us in its starkness. And the rapturous version, that of his brother Piero, who has not escaped the woman's influence either, and who, at the very moment that he places his hands under her buttocks, will go mad and will never be able to speak his mother tongue again.

This is why the legend is, in a way, true: love caresses death and becomes that immortal presence that accompanies us, that stalks us in the depths of solitude and that, as children, warns us that it is preferable to consent to certain doses of blindness to make with the company of one's own ghost, a bearable version of life that, knowing without knowing, entails the most ancestral passions and fears of the human condition.

Irene Domínguez