La Merda is not for the light-hearted.
This warning comes directly from its performer, famed Italian actress Silvia Gallerano, and it’s a warning that Gallerano delivers after nearly six years in the role.
La Merda– a fierce, fiery, and unapologetic show that’s played to sold-out crowds in Rome, London, Edinburgh, Copenhagen, Sao Paulo, Adelaide and Madrid since its premiere in 2012 – begins its highly anticipated run at the Cultch next week.
The play’s title provides some clue to its level of audacity: in Italian, la merda is literally “the shit.”
Over the course of La Merda’s three rapid-fire monologues, Gallerano embodies a character (also named La Merda) who somehow manages to be raw and eloquent and vulnerable and powerful and horrible all at the same time. “The character of La Merda is a very terrible girl. She appears very nice, but she does ferocious things,” says Gallerano on the phone from Rome. “She’s ready to forget her humanity, to forget her being a woman, just to make it and be someone in this emerging world.”
La Merda is an award-winning collaboration between Gallerano and writer Cristian Ceresoli. The work was initially inspired by a character that Gallerano had portrayed in another show (“I had this voice, this character, that I already met in myself in another show before La Merda, and I was looking for the words for her to say,” she says), and grew to explore Gallerano and Ceresoli’s “life and our country, in a very profound and very instinctual way.”
Central to La Merda is Italian society in the aftermath of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s lengthy and controversial leadership. The piece was written in 2011, and confronts an era in which, in Gallerano’s view, many women chose to take a significant step back. “This is a period in Italy where we really went back before the 70s,” says Gallerano. “A lot of women prefer not to work and be wives and mothers and lots of men think this is the right thing to do, and there’s lots of sexism. This is something that we really experience every day of our lives.”
Gallerano is nude for the entirety of La Merda, which she says adds another layer of dimension to an already complex role. “I am naked on the stage, like an animal, and yet I am also showing a strong woman,” she says. “For a woman to see it, it’s something that gives you power.”
Gallerano has performed La Merda in Italian, English, and French. Audiences in different cities react differently to the work, and not always in the way that Gallerano expects. “I thought the German audience would be silent, and then they were laughing a lot and it was like a cabaret performance,” says Gallerano. “And I went to Spain, and I thought it would be very noisy, and they were serious and the performance at the end was very tragic.
“Now I really go and just say to myself, ‘let’s see.’ That’s why I don’t get bored.”