Two Dozen Red Roses Notes

Aldo de Benedetti’s charming 1936 comedy, Due dozzine di rose scarlatte  (“Two Dozen Red Roses”), follows a middle-aged bourgeoisie couple, Alberto and Marina Verani, through a dizzying maze of jealousy, mistaken identity and surprise plot twists. In this classic domestic comedy, the thoroughly comfortable boredom that precedes the play’s action gives way to intrigue and drama manufactured by the characters themselves. Alberto and Marina create plays within plays, often oblivious to the fact that they are performing, weaving fantasies and betrayals out of mistakes and misunderstandings.

De Benedetti is best remembered in his native Italy as a screenwriter with a prolific output, being credited on over 100 films. He is generally associated with the telefoni bianchi (“white telephone”) genre of fascist-era films, a term applied to a style of bourgeoisie domestic comedy popular during the period. These films almost always featured a white telephone prominently in their scenic design, a visible and well-known class marker. The government-issued telephones of the time, which the majority of Italians were likely to have in their homes, were uniformly black, and thus a white telephone immediately indicated to an audience that the story they were about to watch took place in a world removed from their own, with touches of luxury uncommon in most households. Although the telefoni bianchi style is almost exclusively associated with film, Two Dozen Red Roses is a fine example of a theatrical employment of the genre. Indeed, the very first action of the play involves a character answering a telephone, inevitably a white one, indicating to the audience immediately that we have found ourselves in a comfortably upper-middleclass home.

Telefoni bianchi has subsequently become a much-derided genre in the history of Italian filmmaking, with many later-day critics and artists interpreting these comedic jaunts through the foibles of bourgeoisie domestic life as willfully ignoring the very real violence and oppression of fascism. At best, the genre has been viewed as providing escapist fantasies for Italians enduring often trying times, and at worst as complicit in towing the National Fascist Party’s official line that Italy was prospering and progressing. Yet, Two Dozen Red Roses is a play that is more subtle and complicated than either of these interpretations might suggest. Although it would be difficult to argue that the play is in anyway overtly political, particularly in light of de Benedetti’s own political ambiguity, like most good comedies it simultaneously questions and affirms the status quo. The Verani’s comfortable and complacent upper-middleclass life is thoroughly upended by the mere appearance of a bouquet of flowers, suggesting a profound fragility in this neatly ordered world. The very power that fantasy, illusion, and performance possess in the world of Two Dozen Red Roses seems to imply a danger when the truth is ascertained purely through belief.

De Benedetti’s theatrical output, although significantly smaller than his film work, proved popular both in his own country and in translation across the continent. Two Dozen Red Roses enjoyed particular popularity in France, where it was performed in a translation by Marcel Delance in 1937 with the great French actress Yvonne Printemps in the leading role. An English language version of the play was significantly slower to emerge, however. The American theatrical producer, Gilbert Miller, purchased the rights to the play in 1937, commissioning the playwright Kenneth Horne, a popular West End writer in his own day who is now largely forgotten, to adapt the script for an English speaking audience. Although rumors of the play’s immanent opening on Broadway circulated for years, it would ultimately try out in several small theatre’s in the North East before moving to London and opening at the Lyric Theatre in 1949, never stopping in New York City.

TACT is pleased to present the New York City premier of Aldo de Benedetti’s Two Dozen Red Roses and offer our audience the opportunity to sample a superb example of the rarely seen telefoni bianchi genre. This clever and delightful investigation into the meaning of marriage and fidelity serves as a fitting end to TACT’s salon season of “Fine Romance,” offering a vision of love that is both fragile and affirming.