The comedy Due dozzine di rose scarlatte, performed for the first time at Teatro Argentina, Rome, on 10th March 1936, is emblematic of Fascist bourgeois escapist theatre. The play develops according to the classic comical model of the ‘comedy of errors’, on the themes of marriage and infidelity. Marina and Alberto are a married couple whose marriage is losing freshness and falling into a routine. Marina needs some distraction and organizes a trip to take on her own. Alberto then tries to approach a charming countess by sending a bunch of flowers (hence the title, Due dozzine di rose scarlatte), signing the card as ‘Misterioso’ (Mysterious). However, the roses are found by Marina, who thinks someone sent them for her, and decides not to say anything to her husband. Alberto becomes jealous and starts sending roses to his wife signing cards with the same pseudonym, to test her faithfulness. This situation puts a strain to the marriage, until Tommaso, a bachelor and friend to the couple, resolves the crisis by taking the blame.
The Legitimization of the Artist/Intellectual's Participation in the Public Sphere
The Role of Cosmopolitanism in the Modernization of the Italian Artistic Field
Citizen’s Media Manipulation: Entertainment, Escapism and Consensus
During the fascist Ventennio and in particular in the 1930s, theatrical forms with a primarily entertaining or escapist intent had an important place, especially for bourgeois audiences. The so-called ‘white-telephone’ comedies, which were also imported to the film industry, featured prominently in this category. Their name derives from the white telephones that decorated the set, symbol of the modernity and the elegance of the bourgeois houses, in which these plays were set. These comedies were usually skilfully constructed, with witty dialogues, and aimed at representing the experiences and ideals of the upper-middle classes, which wanted to see themselves as agreeable, hip and breezy.
De Benedetti’s production, including other successful comedies like Milizia Territoriale, Non ti conosco più, and Lohengrin, is emblematic of this subgenre. The predominance of the white-telephone comedies, and of other purely entertaining or escapist artworks, within the Fascist cultural framework is evidence of the artistic eclecticism of the regime, which managed to absorb within itself the most diverse cultural products, from avant-garde to the most ‘traditional’ forms. It can also be explained in light of the building and consolidation of consensus, in particular by gaining favour with the bourgeoisie, constituting the backbone of Fascism’s support. Moreover, white-telephone comedies appeared like the natural expression of social stability.
Due dozzine di rose scarlatte is regarded as one of the most significant examples of the white-telephone dramatic genre, destined to become the emblem of an epoch. It offers a variation on a common trope of bourgeois theatre, the love triangle, and develops one of the major themes of De Benedetti’s production: fantasy and illusion, which respond to the need for escapism. However, these are, like in many bourgeois plays, bound to clash with reality, an event which leads the characters to regain rationality and common sense, and accept their fate. This is what happens to the protagonists of Due dozzine di rose scarlatte, which at the end of the play, manage to go back to their lives without talking honestly to each other, and being in the dark about what happened (at least Marina), but having decided that they value domestic and social stability over the desire for adventure. The play was turned into a famous film, Rose scarlatte, shot in 1940, which saw Giuseppe Amato and Vittorio De Sica debuting as directors.
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De Benedetti, Aldo. 1974. Teatro. In Teatro, edited by Achille Fiocco e Alberto Perrini. Milan: Edizioni del Borghese.
Jacobbi, Ruggero. 1972. Teatro da ieri a domani. Florence: La Nuova Italia.
Maurri, Enzo. 1981. Rose scarlatte e telefoni bianchi. Rome: Edizioni Abete.
Pedullà, Gianfranco. 1994. Il teatro italiano nel tempo del fascismo. Bologna: il Mulino.