Born in Buenos Aires of Argentine-Chilean descent, Ariel Dorfman is a prolific playwright, novelist, and essayist.
A long – time activist for human rights, some of his key works have concentrated on the horrors of political and social injustice.
Dorfman’s most famous play, Death and The Maiden, was turned into a 1994 film directed by Roman Polanski. Starring Sigourney Weaver and Ben Kingsley, it was about a former torture victim and her eventful brush with the government official she believed had once abused her.
Written in 2007, Purgatorio is the equally compelling story of a man and a woman trapped in limbo. As the title hints, how and why they arrived form the plot’s driving thrust. With elements of Jean – Paul Sartre’s existentialist play No Exit (1944) thrown in for good measure, to reveal anything further would spoil seeing their fascinating journey unfold. It must be viewed in person to be fully understood and appreciated.
However, what makes this contemporary spin on Dante’s Divine Comedy and Euripides’ Medea so electrifying is its gender – specific focus.
Whether employed for high comedy or dramatic effect, the tense battle between the sexes is a long and oft – used theme. From William Shakespeare’s Macbeth (c. 1600), Noël Coward’s Private Lives (1930), Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolfe? (1962), to Christopher Hampton’s Les liaisons dangereuses (1985), the stakes are always high when love and loss are on the line.
Burning with a gripping intensity, Purgatorio is no different. For as the famous Chinese proverb by Confucius suggests, a person bent on revenge digs two graves.
At 80 minutes in length, the play is divided into three distinct parts. Further, shifts in power are subtle yet always clear.
Expertly directed by Celeste Cody, Jason Bovaird’s fixed and cued lighting is faultless, Tom Pitt’s backing music is intense, Rose Chong’s costumes are suitably functional, and Alex Beyer’s operation is always smooth. Together, their teamwork fuses as one to highlight the play’s mood separations.
What makes this particular staging stand out is its spare and isolating look. For here, the show’s biggest prop is also its best.
The use of a simple sheer cloth screen centrally separates both the actors and the theatrical space. It is a stroke of brilliance that demands the play be seen multiple times from different angles.
Trapped along with the two protagonists, viewers may find themselves watching not only the actors, but gauging the reactions of audience members sitting opposite them as well. Poised like a jury cast in shadow, one can’t help but become an integral part of the performance.
As the man and the woman, Jason Cavanagh and Freya Pragt create real fireworks together. Locked in an eternal death match, they flip back and forth between caged desperation and steel manipulation.
Cavanagh is cool and distant. At other times, he plays the character nervous and unsure. Both approaches work.
In previous shows for 5 Pound Theatre, Pragt has played light comedy as Eliza Doolittle in Pygmalion and The Spinster in The Gilbert and Sullivan Cabaret Review. Here, she shows tremendous dramatic range and it's chilling to watch.
Under Attic Erratic’s and 5 Pound Theatre’s combined care, together, they have created a master class in performance and production.