UTM Italian Studies presents Ciao, Professoressa!—a take on the 1992 film “Ciao, Professor!” based on Marcello D’Orta’s writings. The fish out of water comedy follows a teacher who is transferred to Corzano, a downtrodden town in Southern Italy, instead of her intended destination of Corsano. This all too convenient bureaucratic error that is unlikely to happen in real life, forces her to adjust to the vast cultural differences of her new surroundings. Initially hesitant, the professor grows to form a loving bond with her unruly students as the characters become more alike than they know.
UTM Italian Studies stages several plays over the course year in an attempt to showcase Italian culture, as well as hone student’s grasp of the language. Ciao, Professoressa! is directed by Associate Professor Teresa Lobalsamo and stars several students in her ITA315 – Italian Theatre and Performance class with strong Italian heritage.
The professor’s (Simona Stallone) struggles begin when she is welcomed into an empty classroom. Upon learning that her students neglect school for jobs, she ventures across town collecting each child. She is baffled by the school’s strange workings such as the absentee principal (Adam Sarouji), an officious woman, and the janitor (Vincenzo Vigliatore) who seems to be in charge. Believe it or not, he uses his mafioso connections to charge students for toilet paper. In her attempt to win over her students, she employs movie clichés of challenging the ringleader, making learning fun and trying to understand their social upbringing.
The play offers a harsh social commentary into the stark contrast between Southern Italy and its more affluent Northern counterpart. This is especially evident in the student’s demeanors that reflect the language and cultural differences that exist. Naples is shown as an impoverished-rugged society replete with vulgarity; this is best resembled by the professor’s interactions with her students who all seem to struggle with societal pressures of poverty and crime. She has a particularly difficult time dealing with the racist and vile insults thrown her way that encapsulate the harsh Southern lifestyle. Amusingly, the professor’s pronunciation of the school name, De Amicis, becomes a running gag.
Perhaps, the success of the play depends most on the performance of the student characters. It is a hard enough task to convincingly portray an eight-year old, but they did it brilliantly all the while, conversing in a foreign language. Furthermore, the wonderfully arranged stage setting and behind the scenes production embellishes the audience’s experience. From the hanged clothes airing out on the sides to the authentic Naples lingo, viewers can’t help but feel transported to Napoli. There is a projector screen on stage that provides much needed English translation as well as brief glimpses into the 1992 film, giving context to critical scenes.
I would definitely recommend watching the play as it gives an interesting take on 90’s Italy. Filled with quirky jabs at Silvio Berlusconi and an Office-sitcom inspired scene (yes, the very same), present day audiences can relate even if they are oblivious to the Italian subcontinent. Ciao, Professoressa! ends on a heartwarming note. As the professor prepares to leave De Amici, she and her students reflect on how their time together has changed them all individually.
Ciao, Professoressa! ran from February 22 to March 3.