Natalia Ginzburg, one of Italy’s most admired playwrights of the post-World War II era, was granted the Marzotto Prize for European Drama for The Advertisement (1968). Originally written in Italian, its first translated performance was on the English stage.
The Advertisement centers around Teresa, a lonely woman separated from her husband, who rents out her spare room to Elena, a young woman attending university in Rome. From the moment Elena walks in the door, Teresa talks almost incessantly of her horrible childhood and her tumultuous marriage to Lorenzo, her estranged husband. After five years of marriage, Lorenzo left Teresa upon discovering her affair with his best friend. The play opens after she and Lorenzo have been separated a year. Teresa, however, is still obsessed with their relationship and is still in love with Lorenzo, although she broods resentfully over his treatment of her.
Elena moves into Teresa’s spare room, and the two become friends. Elena enjoys Teresa’s company, listening sympathetically to her long, sad monologues, although Teresa’s demands on her attention prevent her from studying. When Elena meets Lorenzo, they are immediately attracted to one another and begin spending time together. After Elena admits to Teresa that she and Lorenzo are in love, Teresa at first seems to accept her pronounce ment calmly and rationally. However, as soon as Elena turns her back, Teresa shoots and kills her and then calls Lorenzo to confess her crime.
As in many of her plays, Ginzburg is concerned with the experiences of women in modern marriage and modern relationships. In the character of Teresa, she also explores the theme of obsessive love.
Act 1 Summary
Teresa, a woman who is separated from her husband and living alone, has put an advertisement in the newspaper to rent a room in her house. Elena, a college student, comes to look at the room. Elena has been living in her aunt and uncle’s house while going to college, but their children are too noisy and she can’t study, which is why she wants to move. Elena is from the country and doesn’t have much money, so she is willing to do light housework in exchange for the room.
Teresa soon begins talking incessantly about herself, explaining every detail of her marriage, while Elena listens politely, insisting that she is interested. Teresa explains that she had in fact put three different advertisements in the paper: one to rent out the room, one to sell an antique rosewood sideboard, and one to sell her house in the country. She says that she is married but that she and her husband are legally separated. She mentions that she had a terrible childhood because her father claimed that she was actually the child of his brother and so did not consider her to be his child. She was raised in her grandparents’ house, where she lived with her parents and her brother, but her father and brother eventually moved to America. She couldn’t stand living with her mother any more and ran away from home at the age of twenty to live in Rome. She soon found work as an extra in the movies at Cinecittà, the location of the Italian film industry. There she met Lorenzo, who happened to be on the set one day with a friend. Teresa and Lorenzo spent their first three days together in Teresa’s apartment, doing nothing but sleeping and making love. But on the third day, Lorenzo went down to the store to buy cigarettes and didn’t come back.
After Lorenzo disappeared, Teresa quit working for the film industry and got a job at a hair salon. One day, six months later, Lorenzo happened to walk into the salon. Teresa asked why he had never returned from going to the store for cigarettes, and he explained that he had run into a friend and forgotten all about her; then, by the time he remembered her, it was too late at night. The next day, his mother wanted him to visit her in the country; on the way back to Rome, he was in a car accident and injured his shoulder. Teresa assumed he was telling her ‘‘a pack of lies’’ but cried and begged him to stay with her anyway.
Teresa and Lorenzo soon moved in together. Before long, they got married because she thought she was pregnant, but it turned out that she wasn’t. Teresa then learned that Lorenzo was actually very rich, although he lived like a poor university student. They began to spend his money thoughtlessly and recklessly, and he began collecting paintings, motorcycles, and cars.
Teresa goes on to describe a marriage in which Lorenzo continually criticized her, left her for days at a time, and forgot to come home any time he ran into a friend. Teresa also describes physical fights between them, in which he would hit her and she would bite him. But she also insists that their marriage was the happiest time of her life. Finally, Teresa cheated on Lorenzo, sleeping with his friend Mario. Lorenzo left her after coming home to find her in bed with Mario.
Act 2 Summary
Elena is now living with Teresa. Lorenzo stops by while Teresa is out shopping, and Elena meets him for the first time. She tells him she is very happy living there and that she and Teresa have become best friends. Elena mentions that Teresa is always talking about him and stays home all of the time in hopes that he might stop by.
Teresa comes home, and she and Lorenzo immediately begin bickering while Elena goes in and out of the room, preparing lunch. Teresa and Lorenzo rehash various conflicts and resentments. Lorenzo insists that he left Teresa because he no longer loved her, not because he discovered that she was cheating on him with his best friend. He says that he had to leave her because they were destroying one another. He claims that he is perfectly happy without a woman in his life, although Teresa accuses him of going to prostitutes.
Lorenzo agrees to stay for lunch, and Teresa points out that he has never been there for longer than fifteen minutes at a time. Teresa and Lorenzo continue to bicker about their marriage and about Lorenzo’s family. Teresa complains that he doesn’t give her enough money to live on and that she has to sell a piece of furniture to support herself. Lorenzo and Elena discuss their love of the countryside, which Teresa hates. Lorenzo invites Elena to see their house in the country, and Elena invites him to see her parents’ house in the country.
Act 3 Summary
Teresa and Elena sit together, drinking their morning coffee. Elena explains to Teresa that she is moving back to her uncle’s home because she can’t get any studying done at Teresa’s house, as she and Teresa are always talking. She insists that she is very fond of Teresa but simply must live somewhere that allows her to study. Elena explains that she was late coming home the night before because she went out to the movies with Lorenzo and two of his friends, after which she and Lorenzo walked around the city together. Elena then admits that she and Lorenzo have fallen in love, which is the real reason she is moving out.
Upon hearing this news, Teresa remains calm, cool, and rational. She says that she could tell they were in love and that she knows Lorenzo will never want her back, so it doesn’t bother her. She insists that she and Elena will still be good friends and even offers to have her marriage annulled so that Elena and Lorenzo can get married. Yet, Teresa admits that she will always love Lorenzo and that she would be willing to take him back under any conditions. Then Teresa says that she’s going to shoot herself one day so that Lorenzo will be a widower and will be able to marry Elena. She tells Elena she bought a pistol, back when she and Lorenzo lived together, so that she could shoot him. Elena begs Teresa to get rid of the pistol, and Teresa says she will.
When Elena goes into her room to pack, Teresa gets the pistol from her own room, walks into Elena’s room, and shoots her. Teresa hurriedly calls Lorenzo to say she has shot and killed Elena. Just then, the doorbell rings. It is Giovanna, a young woman who is answering Teresa’s new advertisement to rent the spare room.