I’m delighted to return to the Son of Semele Ensemble to unleash the Wild Man once again in a new solo called Wild Man in Rome. This time the Wild Man is pursued through Rome by the Devil who has come to collect.
In 2010 SOSE presented the West Coast premiere of my solo play Wild Man. In it I grappled with mortality as I explored the wildest moments of my life. I told true stories of runaway horses, smuggling watermelons and cheatin’ death. This new version is made of fresh stories collected in Rome over four years. Whereas the original version was 100 percent true, Wild Man in Rome combines the truth with tall tales, fantastical riffs on what might be.
I’ve discovered that fiction sets the truth free. Hemingway used his journalism experience to write fiction, because he believed that when a writer distilled his own experiences, what he made up was truer than what he remembered.
The Wild Man runs a gauntlet to escape the Devil, and his flight takes us on a very special tour of the Eternal City. The Wild Man shape shifts into a doleful Italian saint, San Desolato. He’s befriended by a troupe of Amazon prostitutes. He’s constantly derailed in his flight by mesmerizing epiphanies: the sound of church bells, the smell of cacio e pepe, the sting of an ant’s bite, the sight of swallows tracing the twilight with calligraphy and the taste of a ripe peach growing in a necropolis. He runs up the wall of a church fueled by a heart cannibalized from a funeral parlor. He shape shifts into a 19th-century Irish actor, Padraic Murphy, who hypnotizes the Devil by reciting Shakespeare to him.
The Wild Man races through the Spanish Steps, the Capuchin Bone Chapels, Bernini’s colonnade at St. Peter’s, the hut of Romulus and Remus, the Campo di Fiori, the Jewish Ghetto, the banks of the Tiber, and past the Pieta. As he practices his wild craft he is always asking: Where is our wild side and how do we unleash it?
The Persian poet Rumi offers us a splendid provocation:
Live where you fear to live.
Destroy your reputation.
How do we do this?
One of the threads in the weave of the play is an homage to great Italian Wild Men””such as Caravaggio, Bernini, Fellini and the greatest living Italian Wild Man, Dario Fo, the 86-year-old Nobel Prize”“winning playwright who writes political satires in the living tradition of the commedia dell’arte. One of the nuggets of truth embedded in the fiction is the inspiration I received from an invitation to visit Fo at his home in Cesenatico in July 2012. That afternoon was a peak experience.
The piece certainly owes a debt to the blues classic Hellhound on my Trail, by Robert Johnson, and other devil narratives, such as Hawthorne’s The Devil and Daniel Webster and Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus. Some souls escape, such as Jabez Stone, whom Daniel Webster defends in an all-night trial with the Devil, and some do not, such as Doctor Faustus who is dragged into the hellfire at midnight.
So how does one escape Il Diavolo? We will have to ask that hero of the commedia, Arlecchino, the sly booby from Bergamo, who is always fleeing from Pantalone, or Brighella, or Capitano, and sometimes even Il Diavolo himself. He knows everything there is to know about running. And if you’re gonna be a Wild Man, you gotta know how to run.
And where do we want to run?
Wild is to tame as a wilderness is to a formal garden.
Wild is to tame as a wolf’s fang is to a silkworm’s cocoon.
Wild is to tame as the electric blues is to a wind chime.
Wild is to tame as Howlin’ Wolf is to Raffi.
Wild is to tame as the Mission District is to Orange County.
Wild is to tame as a brothel is to a Quaker meetinghouse.
And what do we fear?Â In the words of Marcus Aurelius: It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.
Wild Man in Rome, presented by Son of Semele Ensemble, 3301 Beverly Blvd., LA, 90004. Opens tonight. Three days only. Thu-Sat 8 pm. Through Dec. 1. Tickets: $20. www.sonofsemele.org
***All Wild Man in Rome production photos by Rebecca Zoltowski
Matthew Maguire won an Obie Award for Performance in 1998 and an Obie Award for Direction in 2007. He is the director of the ttheatre program at Fordham College at Lincoln Center and the co-artistic director of Creation Production Company, which he founded with Susan Mosakowski. The company has produced 49 original works for the stage, including the Obie”“winning Abandon. His work also includes the creation with Philip Glass and Molissa Fenley of A Descent Into the MaelstrÃ¶m for Australia’s Adelaide Festival. He is an active alumnus of New Dramatists and has receivedÂ fellowships from the NEA, the McKnight and Hammerstein Foundations, commissions from the NEA, NYSCA, and Meet the Composer and a 2008 award from the New York Foundation for the Arts.