The idea of “Sailor” originated during a Screenwriting course given by professor Marc Palmieri at City College of New York a few years ago. My final exam consisted in the first forty pages of the script. Today, Sailor is one hour and a half play.
Elle Sunman, Marc Scott and I have in common New York City and a vivid passion for storytelling. Elle is an actress and writer born in Georgia, who grew up in Russia and moved to New York City after having lived more than ten years on the West Coast. I was adopted by the Big Apple about six year ago, while the director, Marc Scott, is a “pure” Newyorker, born and raised in the Bronx. Here we are. You can call us, the Dream Team.
Sofi Romano is the protagonist of Sailor. After her grandfather Marcello dies, she left her country, Italy, and moved to New York City. An orphan, after her parents died in a car accident, Sofi was raised by her grandparents, Francesca and Marcello. At 38, she decided to reinvent her own life. New York is her dream of a new beginning. “The city of artists, the Paris of the 20s…” New York represents the place where her vocation of becoming a writer may become true, which for her it means to finally publish her book dedicated to her grandfather who survived World War II.
History is not the protagonist of our story, but it is the foundation of Sofi’s personality and drive as a character. Elle and I found ourselves exploring the historical background of Marcello, and realized that our perspectives diverged. “Russia won World War II” claimed Elle. “That’s what I learned at school in Moscow. Russians stopped Hitler’s invasion.”
“You’re wrong.” I replied her in disagreement. “Russia contributed in ending the war, but Europe was liberated by the Americans. Everybody knows it!” Both of us recalled the Yalta Treaty in 1945, famously represented by that famous picture in which Stalin, Churchill, and the dying Roosevelt are posing together in a public setting. The three Presidents of the most powerful nations on our planet, were sitting one next to the other as old friends, after the bloodiest war in history just ended. They were cutting the post-war world as a birthday cake, officially inaugurating half a century of Cold War.
“In the 90s, Italian and Russian books of history used to tell divergent histories.” Ultimately, Elle and I agreed to this fact with a smile. When we started working together at Sailor, we also started asking ourselves many questions about our past. Aware of the fact that running into cliche and stereotypes was a real risk, we spent much of our time doing online research, visiting museums, looking documentaries.
However, history is not the main protagonist of the story. It stays in the background, although we can feel its presence. Basically, Sailor’s plot moves through two chronologies: while the story is settled in the present-day New York City, then we jump in a concentration camp frame, in Germany during WWII. The character of Marcello was inspired by the real biography of my grandfather. Telegraphist in the Balkans during the war, he was caught by Germans in 1943, when the Italian King and the chief of the army Badoglio signed a secret pact with the United States. September 1943 signed the end of the Berlin-Rome alliance. Germans and Italians became suddenly enemies, but Italian soldiers were the last ones in getting to know it: the King escaped from Rome, no one gave them orders, many were caught, other took refuge in the mountains where they joined the “Resistenza“, resistance groups that fought against fascism.
As well as fiction starts always from something real and then it goes toward the realm of imagination and freedom of storytelling, the same way my grandfather contributed to building up a character which goes beyond his biography. Marcello has been shaped by my grandfather’s memories, by readings of Levi and Pahor, watching documentaries, visiting museums of New York City. Marcello is the story of a young man that never chose to fight, who did not have liberty but be part of an insane war that killed his best friend, but not his hope in a better future. We don’t see him on the battlefield, but we observe short moments of his everyday life in the concentration camp, we listen to his intimate conversation with his friend, Daniele, and we feel his same anxiety when he is caught stealing potato peels in the garbage cans because of starvation.