by Emily Canavan
Since the 2016 election, I am sure you have noticed the term Fascist is being dusted off and nervously applied to our current president. I have banged my head against countless walls wondering HOW Donald Trump was elected President of the United States. Why do so many people seem to like – even love – this creature who managed to make the White House his home?
Then I was introduced to Margherita Sarfatti, aka the Uncrowned Queen of Italy aka the Jewish Mother of Fascism aka Benito Mussolini’s long-time mistress. Local playwright and Seventh Street Playhouse founder Tony Gallo offered me the role of Margherita Sarfatti in his original play Margherita a year ago, and I immediately accepted. The Jewish Mother of Fascism?
From the script, I learned that Sarfatti and Mussolini were extremely active in the Socialist Party before joining the National Fascist Party together. In fact, many believe Sarfatti was really the driving force that brought the party – and Mussolini – to power. She was also a writer, a poet, and one of the most influential art critics and influencers of her time.
In 1936 Mussolini severed ties with Sarfatti, and she went from being a well-known socialite, art critic, and intellectual force to being largely secluded. Until that point, Italian fascism was not antisemitic. In 1938, however, Italy followed Germany down a dark road of antisemitic laws and regulations. Sarfatti was born Jewish, but converted to Catholicism in 1926. Nevertheless, under the laws passed by Mussolini – she was considered Jewish.
The play takes place over three days in 1939 – three years after her 25+ year love affair with Benito Mussolini ended. When the play begins, Margherita is desperate to get out of the country as new racial laws are being enacted. Her departure is delayed, however, when Il Duce walks back into her life – and more specifically, into her apartment. It is the passion, familiarity, love and hatred between the two that makes me the most uncomfortable. I feel that way because I like them. I relate to their conflicted feelings and their moments of humanity, which the play highlights. Do they deserve to be forgiven by theater-goers and lovers of freedom? Probably not. What I can say is that, from the perspective of the uncomfortably likable Margherita, every once in a while I can see why people love the president.