The closet Arlecchino.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Its small size does not match its great historical importance, as is the case with the city in which it is situated. The ancient Jewish district of Venice consists of a few narrow streets, not more than half a dozen bridges and just two squares. But that’s of no concern. The world’s first ghetto gave the world the word ‘ghetto’. And this year it is observing its 500th anniversary.
Today, the Venice Ghetto is no longer a ghetto. Most residents are Catholics–including the guides to the area’s five synagogues–while the Venetian Jews are scattered across the city; no longer they have to live within confined quarters.
This makes the ghetto just another place in the city. Even so, it has its own charming surprises.
The Delhi Walla recently met a Catholic non-believer who co-runs a small art gallery in the Ghetto. It turns out he was more than that. Gino Signori is an actor, who, for 17 years played the same character—Arlecchino, the most beloved comedian-hero in the masked theater world of Comedia Dell Arte. The role is difficult to perform. It demands great energy. The actor is never still. He has to run and jump on the stage all the time. Frequent summersaults are part of the game. It helped that Mr Signori was an athlete with a passion for karate and judo. He was also an amateur boxer.
This 64-year-old man played the funny Arlecchino year after year until advancing age forced him to retire from this role a decade ago (he was once later seen as a gondolier in a Ugo Gregoretti film). But Mr Signori was kind enough to give me an exclusive performance at his empty art gallery.
As the former actor began to magically transform his face from one expression to another in a quick succession, he ended up becoming the most exciting living landmark in the Venice Ghetto.
The play starts now