Luigi Chiarelli is remembered today as the progenitor of an important concept of theater—teatro del grottesco, or Theater of the Grotesque —rather than for his individual plays themselves. Indeed, only one of his plays, The Mask and the Face, has attained longevity among theatergoers, critics, and historians of drama, enjoying worldwide acclaim soon after its first performance in May, 1916. Nevertheless, with this play Chiarelli inaugurated the Theater of the Grotesque (the term actually derives from a line in the play), a movement that heralded the twentieth century reaction against the traditional nineteenth century bourgeois drama and had a significant impact on such innovative playwrights as Luigi Pirandello. Along with other plays by Chiarelli that can be classified as “grotesque,” The Mask and the Face both questioned traditional bourgeois values and awakened anxiety over those values in those who were not yet conscious of their artificiality—hence opening the search in theater for new foundations on which to build a more genuine life, one that could be lived with one’s own face instead of a social mask. Chiarelli thus was instrumental in changing the conventional dramatic manifestations of the bourgeois worldview that had dominated the stage for decades, paving the way to a new attitude toward the purpose and practice of theater.
Berghaus, Günter. Italian Futurist Theatre, 1909-1944. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1998. A look at Italian theater during the time in which Chiarelli was active. Bibliography and index.
Vena, Michael. Italian Grotesque Theater. Cranbury, N.J.: Associated University Presses, 2001. Contains an introduction to and translation of Chiarelli’s The Mask and the Face, along with two other plays from the Italian grotesque theater. Bibliography and index.
Vena, Michael. “Luigi Chiarelli (1880-1947): Profile of a Playwright.” Connecticut Review 7 (1974): 59-63. A concise presentation of Chiarelli’s life and works.