I’ve seen and admired your adaptation of the musical “Nine” and, lately, three new plays of yours. Where do you get your ideas?
T. Williams always told me that the best plays are based on reality and autobiography. I always use my life, my experiences.
We can see that you used your personal life in “Nine”. What about “Three Sisters and a Priest”, “Suicide Club”, and “The Vatican Knows…”? Reality? Autobiography?
My mother’s friend gave her inheritance, many buildings, to the church. Her three daughters were furious and sued the church. Especially after Pope Jean-Paul II said publicly that Heaven and Hell don’t exist.
“Suicide Club”. A girlfriend of mine told me that her son had committed suicide. I did not believe her.
“The Vatican Knows”. When I was an altar boy I saw pedophilia in my church. That’s when I left it.
How did you start the idea of the musical “Nine”?
I wrote “Six Passionate Women”, on Federico Fellini’s life. Ed Kleban (Chorus Line) saw it and introduced me to the composer Maury Yeston, suggesting a musical. I liked Maury’s music. We worked seven years on the project.
We were rejected many times because Yeston insisted we should follow the outline of the film 8 ½. I insisted in using my idea of Fellini going to Venice to shoot a film. They liked it. We won the O’Neill workshop award in Connecticut and the Richard Rodgers’ award in New York. We created the perfect structure you see now. The critics in Connecticut loved it. My friend Katherine Hepburn was at the opening and loved it. She wrote a letter to Fellini saying “Fratti and Yeston have written a masterpiece. Please give them permission to bring it to Broadway.”
Did you like the film version?
No. They ignored my idea of using Venice and the film Casanova. They did not use our poetic conclusion. The scene and song when nine-years-old Fellini is accusing forty-years-old Fellini to have the brain and illusions of a kid. No mature man should be a ridiculous seducer.
Is the song “Be Italian” yours? It’s typical Fratti.
No, it’s Maury Yeston’s, but I tell young playwrights who want to be composers how collaboration works. I wrote a funny, amusing scene, where Saraghina explains love and sex to eager young children. Maury liked it, but he surprised me the next day with the song “Be Italian”. He gave me a choice, diplomatically. “Do we keep the scene or the song?” The answer was obvious. We chose the song.
I saw last week “The Vatican Knows…” Where did you find such good actors?
I chose Mark Ethan Toporek and Giulia Bisinella, the protagonists. The director Stephan Morrow chose the other actors. All good.
Giulia Bisinella was very spiritual, very convincing as Emma. A wonderful actress. Where did you discover her?
She’s wonderful, I agree. She was a sensitive, sweet lesbian in my play “Dina and Alba”. She will always be my first choice when I cast new plays.
This week saw the NYC premiere of two short plays by Mario Fratti at Theater for the New City: Three Sisters and a Priest and Suicide Club are being presented there on a double bill. (Read nytheatre.com’s review by Ed Malin.)
So why is this production a bit more special than most?
Because it marks Fratti’s 50th (!) year on the American stage.
At 85, Fratti remains as prolific and vital an artist as ever. I have just written an appreciation of this remarkable playwright, critic, and theater teacher, which is published in the Indie Theater Companion on nytheatre.com and also in some of the Community Media newspapers in Manhattan. I hope it does him justice; I think it provides at least a bit of context for his work and its importance.
We’re honored to have six of Fratti’s plays published on Indie Theater Now, including two that we just added yesterday — Beata, the Pope’s Daughter and, from 1962, the one that started it all, The Academy. Check them out: they’re both tight, well-crafted dramas with timeless themes (corruption, sex), and each features Fratti’s trademark twist-at-the-end.