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Romeo and Genesi

Photo by Luca Delpia

AN ANOREXIC LUCIFER, ADAM AS A CONTORTIONIST, Eve with a mastectomy: These are some images from Italian director Romeo Castellucci's Genesi: From the Museum of Sleep -- the first foreign entry in UCLA's international theater festival. Set to music, this plotless, wordless three-act compilation of disturbing stage pictures is based on the first book of the Bible and careens through the laboratory of Madame Curie, Auschwitz, then back to Cain and Abel. Since the early '80s, Castellucci has staged award-winning works ranging from children's theater to Hamlet, and has been presented in Europe, Canada and Australia. He spoke to the Weekly by phone from Milan. Carla Balatresi of the Italian Consulate's Cultural Institute in Los Angeles translated.

L.A. WEEKLY: Imagine you're 15 years old. What's happening in your life that's going to shape the way you create theater in later years?

CASTELLUCCI: Oh yes, that's an important age. I was a young rebel, as are most boys at 15. I also went to church, where I found art in painting, sculpture. It was in the church that I first found a way to represent naked bodies. It was also at that age that I found out about Pasolini, who remains a major influence on me.

You've said there was political upheaval when you were growing up. Does your theater come primarily from dreams, books, or from life outside your door?

My theater springs from the world of ideas. It's an intellectual theater, different from the world of dreams, even though dreams do take a very small part. Then the actors take the stage, and they modify the ideas, making real what was before just a hypothesis. And the world outside comes into play only as an echo, very faint.

You have a reputation as the enfant terrible of the Italian theater. Do you feel any pressure to sustain that?

I don't think about it at all.

What reaction do you anticipate in Los Angeles?

Los Angeles does not have a history of theater, of culture. And with it being such a large city, I'm hoping it's more apt to be open-minded than Europe, with all its tradition. There I'm half loved and half hated; it can be described as a public neurosis. In L.A., I understand that the public is used to the storyteller of the movies, but in my work the storytelling changes form. I hope the public is open to that.

Is the reason you create any different from what it was 20 years ago?

Even today, I don't know why I create, so the question escapes me. When I was younger, I felt that maybe I was going to make a difference in the world. Now I think this idea is rather funny.

So what keeps you going?

Paradoxically, it's the fact that my theater might disappear. This creates an urgency, or else the theater is just decorative.

Do you ever feel the need to take a rest?

Never.

Genesi: From the Museum of Sleep will be performed at UCLA's Freud Playhouse, Friday-Saturday October 4-6. Call (310) 825-2101 or visit www.uclalive.org.