Interviews & Articles

Inverview with Mario Fratti on Corine’s Corner

Article in American Oggi (article in Italian)

Summary: The film adaptation of “Nine”, based on Mario Fratti’s adaptation of Fellini’s “8 1/2” (Broadway 1982) will open in New York in November of 2009. The film will be directed by Rob Marshall, whose previous credits include the film adaptation of the musical “Chicago”.

This interview with Mario appeared in the The Soul of the American Actor

Playwright and Drama Critic, Mr. Fratti was born in Italy but has lived in New York since 1963. Most of his plays have been published in 19 languages and have played in over 600 theatres. They include The Academy, The Gift, Eleonora Duse, The Victim, Che Guevara, Betrayals, Seducers, The Cage, Waiting, The Refrigerators, The Coffin, Six Passionate Women, The Third Daughter, Birthday, The Piggy Bank, The Suicide, A.I.D.S., The Colonel’s Wife, and the musical Nine (his adaptation of Fellini’s film 8 ½), which won eight Drama Desk Awards and five Tony Awards, and will be revived on Broadway this coming season. He has taught at Adelphi University, Hunter College, New School for Social Research, Columbia, and Hofstra. Mr. Fratti is the recipient of the Leone di San Marco Literary Award, Eugene O’Neill Award, the Outer Critics Circle Award, and the Richard Rodgers Award. His newest play, Erotic Adventures in Venice was recently performed at La MaMa ETC. A Festival of Mr. Fratti’s plays (Porno, Sincerity, Originality, Leningrad, Castration) and an exhibit of 200 posters of his plays was held this past Spring in Italy.

RR: You’ve written quite a lot of plays.
Yes, many. Chekhov was once asked: “Why do you write so many short stories? His answer was “Because I have many songs to sing and I want to sing them all.” My answer is the same. When I have something to say, I write a play.

RR: Your latest play in New York was Erotic Adventures in Venice. What inspired you to write this particular play at this time?
It is about the corruption in Italy. For forty years the Christian Democrats robbed Italy blind. They are replaced now by Berlusconi and his new party. He controls the media – four television stations, and most of the publishing houses and newspapers in Italy. It is a huge scandal in Europe. It’s the same people, but with more power than before.

RR: Do you consider your plays political plays?
Some of them deal with political issues. I admire playwrights like Aristophanes, Clifford Odets, Lillian Hellman, Maxwell Anderson, Arthur Miller, David Mamet, Tony Kushner, Bertolt Brecht. They deal with important issues. The best play on Broadway this season is The Crucible. It is back because there is a new fear of McCarthism.

RR: Are your plays also autobiographical?
All plays are one third autobiographical, one third history, one third imagination.

RR: As you began to become more successful as a writer, how were you able to deal with the seduction of power?
I do not write for a desire of “power,” I write to communicate. And when I reached financial freedom, I felt freer, able to say whatever I want. That’s the only power I like.

RR: How does theatre change society, its people?
By revealing the intimate dreams of people who are not free, the victims of society.

RR: What role does “hope” play in such a violent world?
I believe in man, notwithstanding man and his many crimes. I am an optimist. We must keep communicating, explaining, illuminating our fellow man. And, as Pirandello and Miller often said, there must be a spark of hope in each play. At least one character must be positive, must believe in life, in the possibility of improving society.

RR: Was it your parents that lead you to ‘believe in man,’ while knowing how imperfect man is?
My father worked hard to feed my family. I read constantly, French and Italian literature, especially Emile Zola. I was influenced by him and by the poets Nazim Hikmet and Bertolt Brecht.

RR: Pirandello wrote that we all wear a mask. Are we all hiding behind a mask?
Often. Some weak people must lie to survive. Emmanuel Kant suggested that we must always tell the truth, but sometimes we can be “silent,” ignoring truths that may hurt. My father was a union man. Sometimes he had to compromise, to use only partial truths to protect his fellow-workers. I understand him. He had to survive; he had to feed a family.
RR: You were born in Italy. What kind of a challenge was it for you to write in English?
I studied many languages in Italy. I fell in love with English. It is monosyllabic, and perfect for drama. I moved to New York in 1963. I keep readings good plays and novels constantly to improve every day.

RR: Are you a believer in destiny?
Absolutely not. We make our own destiny. I started as a poet. I felt I was not a good poet. Then I discovered the power of dialogue. There were many literary contests in Italy, I won 33 of them. I felt “I had to choose my own destiny.” Theatre for ever. I write plays, I teach playwriting, I am a drama critic. It is so wonderful to discover new plays, new playwrights.

RR: You’ve seen American theater change quite a lot since the 60’s. What can the artist do to insure the theatre is a place of discovery and surprise?
There are many problems in this society. The media often ignores or hides them. We must stress what is hidden, avoided. We must delve into the tragedy of loneliness, despair, where there is a lack of faith. We must help in improving the world. Man must feel he is not alone. The theatre is also a rite of being together, feeling the joy of companionship

RR: Are you a religious person?
Once I apologized to a priest for never going to church. He told me something I have never forgotten: “You’re more religious than most people. You believe in man, you write about man, you give all of us a message of love and optimism.”

RR: Do you believe in God?
I am a pantheist. God is in every plant, in every animal, in each one of us. I don’t believe in an old all-powerful Deity that sends us to Heaven or to Hell. By the way, I was in Rome when Pope John Paul II said publicly: “Forget the popular notion of actual physical places – fluffy clouds above, an inky ferno below. Think of Hell as a state of mind, a self-willed exile from God.”

RR: Is man growing up?
In some countries freedom is increasing. In some countries it is diminishing. The power of the media is overwhelming. They can brainwash anybody, making him believe he is free.

RR: How did your musical Nine come into being and are you pleased its returning to Broadway with Antonio Banderas?
Very pleased. My friend Ed Kleban, ( who wrote A Chorus Line), wrote the music for my play, The Refrigerators. He then wanted me to hear some other songs written by his young friend, Maury Yeston. I listened to three incredible songs (they are still in the show), and I accepted immediately to work on a new musical with them. We decided to choose the life of Federico Fellini (from the film 8½). Maury loved the name I chose for the protagonist (Guido Contini – a combination of Visconti and Fellini). We worked almost seven years on the project and won the Richard Rodgers Award and the O’Neill Selection Award. In Connecticut, at the O’Neill Theatre Center, we were given the chance to work with Broadway stars. We learned a great deal and improved the musical. I proposed it to Tommy Tune and invited him to direct it. He loved the project and we started rehearsals. Tommy then invited Arthur Kopit to work on Nine, so it is really the work of four people, and we’re all very proud of it.

RR: It appears easier to attract people to musicals. How can we attract them to dramatic plays?
We must stimulate the minds of the spectators by being “unpredictable.” Pirandello said: “My dream is to have an audience who will discuss my plays for fifteen minutes after they leave the theatre.”