The Poor Kitchen: Lisa chat’s with Daniela Giorgi (Theatre Interview)
The Poor Kitchen
Limelight on Oxford, Limelight Downstairs
8 – 26 May. You can grab your tickets here.
Of all the things I would like to inherit in my life, an olive farm in Italy rates around the top. Raised on A Room With A View, I became addicted to E.M. Forster sweetened by a spoonfull of Merchant Ivory very young, and it took a great deal of unpleasant home truths to knock the nonsense out of me. The combination was disastrous for my bibliphilia that was always (and remains) calamitously close to a rampant Eurocentricism that I have to perpetually keep in check. It turns out this passion for ‘a certain style’ of Europe became properly exemplified in the 90’s with those lifestyle books that sprinkle a little romance with a little recipe with a little interior decorating and bingo – New York Times bestseller. I fell for this fad hook line and sinker, and while I was well over it by Eat, Pray,Love I confess to spending a night with gin and chocolate pinning for alternatives in front of Under the Tuscan Sun. Daniela Giorgi, the daughter of Italian immigrants, has a fair bit to say about this romanticising of beautiful European destinations like France, Italy and Greece. She bundles her excellent critique into her play The Poor Kitchen which Patina Productions are producing this month in the all new Limelight Downstairs space. Patina Productions have this to say about The Poor Kitchen:
Elle unexpectedly inherits an olive farm in Italy. The neighbours are colourful, the food is divine, but as she tucks into her tagliatelle, she finds herself at the table with the ghosts of a barbarous past. Set in southern Italy, THE POOR KITCHEN is a funny and deeply moving play that explores the personal, the political and the pasta!
I was lucky enough to both see this production in 2016 when it was on at The Old 505 Theatre, and have a chat to Daniela Giorgi about how she feels about nostalgia, letting go of her baby into the big world of another production company taking it on, and being from an immigrant family in Australia. You can read the interview below, and you can see the play when it is presented at Limelight from this weekend for the next three weeks.
LT: The Poor Kitchen was a huge success when subtlenuance put it on at The Old 505. How do you feel about seeing your writing go out into the world alone?
DG: I’m very excited that Patina Productions are producing The Poor Kitchen in their lovely new space, Limelight on Oxford. And I’m very grateful to Julie Baz and Dave Jeffrey for liking the play enough when they saw it to want to re-stage it. As a working playwright I’ve also had the wonderful experience of producing some of my own plays but it’s a great pleasure to have someone else do it and to be able to simply enjoy watching the show as an ordinary audience member. They’ve gathered a lovely cast and with Julie’s direction I’m sure it will be a fun and beautifully put together production. I can’t wait to see it on Opening Night!
LT: As an Australian writer with Italian heritage, what complexities does The Poor Kitchen address that might be common to second and third generation immigrants in Australia?
DG: Australia is a nation of migrants with all the challenges that brings. My father was part of the great human Diaspora that characterised the 20th century. He escaped the terrible poverty and tendency towards fascism of his homeland to make a new life abroad. I grew up with his stories about life in post war Italy and he always wanted us to value our Italian heritage but he was extremely proud of being an Australian citizen and much preferred living in an egalitarian and law abiding nation. Like many immigrants to Australia I was teased at school and often felt embarrassed by my heritage but as an adult, and particularly as a writer, I realized my family back ground was a wonderful trove of stories and ideas. The Poor Kitchen is a play about identity. Who we are and how we choose to live. It visits the violent political past in an Italy overtaken by Fascism in the 20th century and explores the idea of simplicity versus complexity through a cast of quirky characters. We often want quick, easy solutions to political issues but whenever we engage with others we realise how many viewpoints there actually are. And so the play is also about here and now and how we can ensure that in a Democracy, unlike Fascism, we allow as many people as possible to have a say.
LT: How does The Poor Kitchen deal with the romanticized versions of certain Mediterranean countries? Are these versions always the ‘Anglo’ vision for these countries?
DG: The Poor Kitchen was inspired partly by my fascination with what you might call the “Good Life” travel memoir genre. It’s typified by popular books such as A Year in Provence and Under the Tuscan Sun. The main character, usually a tired anglo-saxon woman, escapes her life in the city by moving into a dilapidated old farm house in the southern Mediterranean country side where she meets the colourful and quirky local characters. I admit that I’m addicted to reading these romanticised cliché’s of country life in France and Italy. These narratives are escapist literature, taking people away from their own lives and into a fantasy world. It’s a first world vision because it’s those in the wealthy world that have time to read about escaping their boring lives. The rest of the world is too busy finding food or avoiding violence. When they escape, it’s literally, through actual migration, not just a migration of the mind. Although The Poor Kitchen is set against the back drop of a rustic ancient landscape, the seasonal rhythms of country life and huge servings of mouth wateringly fresh local food it actually subverts this genre by creating an Italy that isn’t entirely this romanticized version. The main character, a young woman from Australia who has unexpectedly inherited an olive farm in Italy, encounters the brutal reality of the past as well as a whole lot of funny and frustrating characters.
LT: Nostalgic narratives can reflect more positive than negative affect, feature the self as the protagonist, and are often embedded in a social context. However, they can be triggered by negative moods and loneliness. How does The Poor Kitchen address the issue of nostalgia?
DG:The Poor Kitchen is set both in the present and the past. The past is the brutal reality of post war Italy with all of the violence and poverty that entailed, so there is very little room for nostalgia in the narrative. My father always said that he loved to visit Italy but only with a return air ticket. He had no intention of ever going back there to live and unlike some migrants didn’t romanticize his childhood or feel nostalgic about his homeland. That didn’t mean that he didn’t often feel lonely and alienated in his new country and miss his family but back breaking poverty isn’t something anybody wants to return to.
LT: When you visit Italy, do you feel immediately at home there, or do you have another version of Italy that lives inside of you? How does ‘being Italian’ affect your ‘being Australian?’
DG: Home for me is Sydney, Australia and has been for as long as I can remember. I arrived when I was seven on a cruise liner from Cape Town. I was born in South Africa to Italian migrant parents, who then decided to migrate again and bring the family here. So Italy was always this strange place that my parents came from that had fascists and wolves and lots of pasta. When I was growing up I was often teased about the food that was in my lunch box, no neat white squares of vegemite for me, my sandwiches were filled with broccoli. And the other children called me a “wog” because I went to Italian school on Saturday mornings instead of playing netball or doing “physie”, like everyone else. And so as a teenager I thought that maybe Italy, although I’d never been there, was where I belonged. But when I travelled there for the first time I was greeted excitedly as “L’Australiana”, the Australian, and so I realized very quickly that I didn’t belong there either. This outsider status has served me well. I think all artists are outsiders in their societies often looking in and wondering. Perhaps that’s where a lot of the fodder for creativity comes from. If you’re not wondering what’s going on you’ve got nothing to say. I loved my experience of Italy with all it’s beautiful history and architecture, and strange food like pasta with snails in tomato sauce, but when I arrived back home I happily discarded the garbs of the tourist and was immensely grateful to be back home in this peaceful and wealthy country.
Bio- Daniela Giorgi
Daniela is a writer, theatre producer and civic educator. She has had poetry and short stories published in Prayers of a Secular World, Inkerman & Blunt; Blue Crow Magazine, Blue Crow Press; Knitting and other stories, Margaret River Press and Radio National’s 360 documentaries. Her debut play, Talc, was produced in 2010. Her short play, Sicilian Biscotti, was produced for the launch of “Women Power and Culture” at New Theatre in 2011 and shortlisted for the Lane Cove Literary Award in 2015. Her second full length play, Friday, was produced by SITCO at the Old Fitzroy Theatre in 2013. The Poor Kitchen was produced in 2016 as part of the Old 505 Theatre’s Fresh Works Season and was published by the Australian Script Centre in 2017 (https://australianplays.org/script/ASC-1836). She co-wrote Shut Up And Drive with Paul Gilchrist and it was produced at KXT in 2016. In 2019 her play,Seed Bomb was as part of the Old 505 Theatre’s Fresh Works Season. She is the co-founder of indie theatre company subtlenuance and also blogs about food, place and time at sagesomethymes.wordpress.com