At the Conversation Circle, in Ragusa’s Piazza del Duomo, a chat among local aristocrats would often turn into a veritable theater piece.
As the Sicilian writer Gesualdo Bufalino explained in an interview by Tania Dimartino (in Italian), the 19th-century Sicilian conversation circle, “with its painted ceilings, soft armchairs, and billiard cues against the walls, was an ideal place for theater […] Sicilians are living mimes by nature: everything about them – their gestures, their words, their silences – is pure theater. Thus in this kind of place, where people gathered to chat, an exchange easily turned into a theatrical conversation […] Everyone represented a certain character in the eyes of the others. Perhaps it is in such circles that Pirandello, during the frequentations in his younger years, was inspired to think of men as puppets (or ‘pupi’, in Sicilian), each one with three invisible strings inside – rational, social and emotional. In those circles, anyone who possessed a certain trait immediately was expected to represent and symbolize it, creating an artificial and excessive character – a mask to which he would more or less willingly adapt. By multiplying the same mechanism for every member of the community, a tight web of possible scenes became available to compose an endless script, an infinite ‘commedia dell’arte’. Something that barely survives today…”
Built in 1850 in the Ibla district, the Conversation Circle (“Circolo di Conversazione”), also known as “Caffè dei Cavalieri”, is strictly Doric-Roman in style. In its party hall – where the noblemen of the area met and mingled – the allegoric frescoes, gilded mirrors, painted medallions, and red damask sofas were a sumptuous set for daily, evocative plays.