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The Cheese and the Worms


Domenico Scandella. The Trials of the Holy Inquisition (1583-1599)

Based on the book “The Cheese and the Worms: the Cosmos of a Sixteenth-century Miller” by Carlo Ginzburg​

Written and directed by: Tommaso Pitta

Starring: Federico Bonaconza

Costume, Set and Light Design: Gabriele Amadori and Tommaso Pitta

Produced by: Scuola d'arte drammatica Paolo Grassi and BabyGang Teatro

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In 1583 – Domenico is 56 years old – the Inquisition receives an anonymous report denouncing him for uttering “heretical and dreadfully blasphemous” declarations. Domenico’s ideas strike the inquisitors so much that the questioning goes on for over one hundred days. Nobody can believe that Domenico doesn’t belong to any heretical sect or had any contact with the Protestant Reformation. At the end of the questioning, following the advice of the Inquisitors, Domenico recants to avoid capital punishment. He is condemned to a life sentence and several “holy penances”. After two years in jail, close to his breaking point and nearly delirious, Domenico begs to be released. He is pardoned and returns to his family. However, he is still subject to the penances, which include wearing heretical black clothing, so as to let everybody know that he was condemned for heresy. Abandoned even by his family, Domenico becomes lonelier and lonelier. Fifteen years later, he is denounced again for uttering foul-mouthed blasphemies in an inn while drunk. The death sentence inevitable. In 1599 he is burnt at the stake.

The play develops through the dialogue between Domenico – handcuffed on a small platform surrounded by the audience – and the glacial and impenetrable voice of the Inquisitor.


“An interesting cross between two languages. On the one hand, the actor who represents philologically a miller of the 16th century, illustrated by the costumes, dialect and the ghostlike atmosphere. On the other hand, the Inquisitor, an amplified voice which intervenes only to ask questions and pass judgment. A historical event is narrated with simple and effective staging. We are cleverly dragged into a world of absurdity and violence; a religious belief drawn to its extreme consequences. A corner of the world narrated in a room, like the reminiscence of a “Big Brother” who controls mind and body. Where is freedom? This is the question at the heart of the play.”

Rassegna Ubusettete, Chiara Fallavollita

“A one hour monologue interrupted by just the voice of the Inquisitor, calm but as sharp as a sword. The monologue outlines a historical character who, in his disarming simplicity and frankness, becomes the symbol of the heresy and the Inquisition’s persecution of these dark centuries. The play captivates and makes you think, thanks to the excellent directing of Tommaso Pitta and the extraordinary interpretation of Federico Bonaconza.”

Il Giorno, Luca Divo

Directing notes

​Several reasons make this story particularly significant and fascinating. First of all, the nature of Power manifests itself in it with striking clarity. Domenico is not a hero. In fact, he will recant and beg for pardon, unwilling to die for his beliefs. He is a chatterbox, enthusiastic about his ideas and unaware of how revolutionary they are. Oblivious to the danger hanging over him, he naively answers all the questions of the Inquisitor. We wish we could stop him as keeps talking and heads unknowingly towards his death. The voice of the Inquisitor isn’t the voice of a specific person. It’s the voice of a universal entity, the power: an element of nature that, like the sea or a storm, follows its deadly logic regardless of human affairs. There are no villains and Domenico’s fate seems inevitable.  Nevertheless, at the heart of this story is the strength and poetry of the ideas and imagination of this bizarre visionary, which manage to move us even today. Finally, this story stands out for the clarity with which it reveals the nature and mechanisms of the Catholic Church at the time of the Counter-Reformation.​

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