Sicily, summer 1916. The village women finish harvesting Old Simone’s almond crop, and we are introduced to the characters through their cheerful singing and gossiping. Liolà is a larger-than-life, rascally field hand, who unconventionally raises his three illegitimate children with the help of his mother. Old Simone, the rich landowner, on the other hand, is unhappily married to the much younger Mita and desperate for an heir. When another girl falls pregnant, he is persuaded to recognise it as his own, but Mita is not going to be pushed aside easily.
Despite the title, the real protagonists are the women, their outwardly passive exterior is a façade and despite the restrictions imposed by society and religion; they are the actual catalysts of the plot. In a patriarchal society where their position is influenced by their ability to have children, and their wellbeing can be defended only through male relatives, their tenacity and resilience shine through.
Although the play is set in rural Sicily and a perennial olive tree is part of the stage, this production has an unmistakably Irish character. The cast is all Irish, accent included; the music is a combination of Irish folk music and jazz, even when dancing the tarantella, rather than traditional Sicilian; and the women gossip while peeling potatoes, stereotypically enough.
Liolà is a fast-paced, light-hearted comedy, filled with carefree images of people working and singing in the fields, women chasing unruly children around, young girls eager to experience life. Yet the carefree scenes are soon followed by drama; the barren wife who is only a burden, the tensions between landowners and workers, a mother and daughter ruthlessly trying to save their reputation, a man blindingly desperate for an heir, Liolà good enough for a lover but never to be taken seriously. Ultimately though, we are left smiling, even though nothing is resolved as expected.
In all, this production of Liolà was an enjoyable one, despite the fact that the actors’ singing was just acceptable and their mimicking of Italian gesticulations was not the best. As a text, Liolà lacks the intensity and complexity that make Pirandello’s plays memorable, but it is certainly a well-made production and worth seeing.