It happened to me again the other day: another Eduardo-type situation. I was sitting in my car, double-parked at the Naples airport. I was in a line of about 25 cars, equally double-parked and each one of us equally guilty of impeding traffic as it ploughed its dharma-like furrows of turn and return past the entrance, out to the parking lot and back around to the entrance. A traffic cop walked over to me and the following conversation ensued:
"Hey, you'll have to move your car, You're blocki—"
"You know, of all these double-parked cars —and you'll notice that traffic is still managing to squeeze by us— I am the only…"
"Look, this is my job. People double-park, I tell them to move."
"…only person who has stayed in his car while waiting, so I can move it to let cars on the inside get out if they have to."
"OK. Have it your way." (Exit traffic gendarme.)
Confrontation, Understanding, Resolution, and even a
good-natured Victory of sorts on behalf of the
downtrodden, all in quick succession! If this were the
stage, I don't know if it would be Absurd or Realist or
What. How does one describe Naples and its citizens? — a
hodge-podge of humor and despair, ordinary persons
besieged by life, thwarted, vexed, stepped on, yet
maintaining the all-important "figura" of self-respect and
dignity as they struggle through their "lives of quiet
Eduardo De Filippo does describe it, however, and it is why he is one of the best-loved and best-known Italian playwrights of the century. "Eduardo" (Italians, affectionately, are on a first-name basis with their great artists), can be as bewildering as the Absurd, yet as political and 'socially relevant' as Shaw or Brecht.
He started as an actor with Neapolitan troupes in the 1920s, then with other members of his family founded the "Compagnia del teatro Umoristico i De Filippo," which he reformed as his own "Il Teatro di Eduardo" in 1944. Many of his works are in the rich Neapolitan dialect and share a number of recognizable 'Eduardian' themes, such as the struggle of the down-and-out to retain dignity; the preservation of traditional family values; moral deterioration in the face of poverty; and the injustice of being forced to live beyond the law. Later in his career, he turned somewhat away from dialect in a search to express themes which, though they may be eternal, have become more evidently so in the twentieth century —the need for illusion, for example. In this, his works recall those of another great Italian playwright of our times, Luigi Pirandello.
His works are widely translated and a few have been made into films. Anyone who has seen Marriage, Italian Style, starring Sofia Loren and Marcello Mastroiani, has seen the film version of Eduardo's play Filumena Marturano, the story of an ingenious ex-prostitute who gets her common-law husband to marry her by revealing to him that he is the father of one of her three sons. To ensure that he treats all three equally, she refuses to tell him which one it is. The audience never finds out, either, and to the end of his life, Eduardo good-naturedly complained about all the letters he received from people begging to know which one was the real son! Of course, they missed the point.
Eduardo is still acknowledged to be the greatest interpreter of Eduardo. Since his death, Neapolitans have had to adjust to others playing all those roles that he created for himself and that still seem to 'belong' to him.
In the long, long
history of Naples, Eduardo, obviously, is very recent.
Yet, he so sums up this city that if a science-fiction
device could present his plays to past generations of
Neapolitans, it is a sure bet that they would nod their
heads in assent, then sigh and wonder how they had ever
got along without him.