In Chicago Debut, Playwright Vetere Discusses Caravaggio / by R. Sheth

September 19, 2006
News Release

With the world premiere production of Richard Vetere’s Caravaggio (Oct. 7 – November 26), directed by Dale Heinen, Silk Road Theatre Project is proud to be the first Chicago company to produce a work by this renowned novelist, screenwriter, and playwright. Silk Road also hopes to continue the recent interest in the life and works of the great Italian painter Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio. According to playwright Vetere, “after hundreds of years of not being appreciated there is now a major interest in Caravaggio. His work deals with humanity’s suffering and his realism is relevant for us today.”

Richard Vetere’s interest in Caravaggio began early in his career, shortly after receiving his master’s from Columbia University and during the production of his first play (which compared New York City’s decay in the 1970’s to the fall of the Roman empire). “It was then that a set designer told me that my ‘face’ was in a Caravaggio painting,” he remembers. “And there it was, in the Calling of Saint Mathew. I was the money lender at the far side of the table and Christ was behind me.” This inspired Vetere to write a poem about the experience of ‘being’ in the painting (which appeared in his second volume of poetry, “A Dream of Angels”) and later drove him to write early drafts of a play about the artist’s life. However, very little factual material about Caravaggio was available at the time. It wasn’t until the late 1990’s that a more comprehensive look at the artist was available, in the form of Helen Langdon’s book, Caravaggio: A Life. It was then that Vetere fully realized the depth to which Caravaggio’s story went and how well “it lent itself to theatre.” A third generation Catholic Italian American, Vetere saw many correlations between Caravaggio’s work and his own. “His paintings struck me as dramatic one act plays- the characters suffering in a drama that dealt with deep issues. I also see the blood, violence, and compassion for suffering as being very Catholic and my own work has those elements. Caravaggio was deeply Catholic and he was interpreting the religion in new ways through his art,” states Vetere, whose own work has explored issues of faith. “I see many similarities between my own work, my own belief system, and Caravaggio’s.”

“I think a Caravaggio today would be nearly impossible,” Vetere speculates. “Our culture has become inundated with programs like CSI and Law & Order and movies like Mission Impossible or Pirates of the Caribbean that have no desire to have people think about their lives or their religion or the meaning of their lives.” In terms of art’s place in modern society, Vetere believes that it “has been so removed from the culture that it has become a toy of the elite, which is what Caravaggio was fighting.” He goes on by saying that “our culture is more concerned with pleasure and enjoyment than meaning. If Caravaggio was around today, he would probably be a force to be reckoned with since he is attacking the status quo. He was the first rebel of the Western world, actually. And, as then, he probably would have been killed for his rebellious nature.”

The fall of 2006 will see another play of Vetere’s produced: Machiavelli, based on the life of The Prince author Niccolo Machiavelli. The New York City production will be moving from the West Village to the ArcLight Theatre (152 West 71st Street; call 212-239-6200 for tickets) and run from September 13 through November 5. Vetere’s interest in Machiavelli and Cavaraggio stems from the fact that both men “changed the way we think – one was a playwright and one was a painter. They were Italian, so I think I have an understanding of how they thought. Both were frustrated by the world around them as they made their perceptions known.” However, this is not where the similarities between the two plays end. “I love the thought that both plays start rehearsal on the same day, both are about the Renaissance, and both plays are being done in churches,” Vetere muses.

In bringing one of his plays to Chicago for the first time, Vetere set out to find a theatre company that would compliment his work. “I have always known how good Chicago theatre is so the idea of having a play done in that city is very exciting to me,” he says. “I know terrific theatre has come from [Chicago]. As a playwright, I am thrilled that Silk Road is doing original plays that are about something. In other words, a play set in a different time. I truly believe there is an audience for plays that are set in other worlds so that we can compare and see the universality of our own fears, hopes and humanity.”