Dario D’Ambrosi: still crazy after nearly 25 years at La Mama


By Wickham Boyle

Dario D’Ambrosi is an icon in experimental theater, a dedicated practitioner who, despite forging a successful career in films both in Europe and America, still returns for an annual pilgrimage to the Mecca of experimentation, La Mama ETC.

For decades D’Ambrosi has explored visions of insanity through his theatrical works with his company Teatro Patologico. These productions have garnered him a lifetime achievement award from the Instituto del Drama Italiano, the equivalent of an Italian Tony award. His work has repeatedly mined the time he spent in mental institutions, and in his dedication to his newest work “A Crazy Sound,” playing at La Mama until this Saturday, Dec. 30, he says, “What shocked me most when I was in a mental hospital weren’t the antidepressants, the electric shock or the straightjackets, but… the animalistic energy.”

I always assumed D’Ambrosi was working in these hospitals, since I knew he had been an actor and former professional soccer player. However, given what we know about life, it may be best if we walk the tender line of not knowing whether D’Ambrosi’s experience is from within or from the point of view of an observer. After all, this is what his work is all about. Who is mad, who is sane, what is the burden of each state and how can we tell the characters in our lives without a scorecard?

In “A Crazy Sound,” all the inmates are women, and it is amazing to see what makes women crazy refracted through a man’s perspective. Trying to do too much, attempting to please everyone, conforming to unreasonable standards of beauty, climbing the corporate ladder, raising children, this entire ward is comprised of women of different colors and social strata who have tried to do too much and have fallen or been released by it.

When I was in college, struggling with feminism, men, my family and hard work in school and waitressing — in short, overwhelmed — a wonderful movie came on the scene: Le Roi des Coeur (“The King of Hearts”). It stared Alan Bates as a soldier who takes refuge in a mental institution to escape the enemy. It was a marvelous study of who is in and who is out, who’s crazy, who’s sane. I was struggling with that idea and went to the Paris Theater and saw that movie every day for a week, sometimes sitting through twice. (These were the days before rentals or Netflix, and one had to be a dedicated film stalker.) I always left feeling I wanted to be on the inside with the wackos, but I felt calmed.

D’Ambrosi’s play and his vision did not make me want to sign up to make music on the underside of my bed like his inmates, but it did make me pause to think about all the insanity we put upon ourselves, especially at this time of year when we gear up to do too much and then are forced to pretend to love it. But once again, D’Ambrosi’s work made me take stock of what my society defines as good or evil or crazy or sane, and for that I am grateful.

The final two performances of “A Crazy Sound” are this Friday and Saturday at 7:30 PM at La Mama ETC, 74A East 4th St., 212-475-7710, lamama.org.