Chilean playwright Ariel Dorfman has penned nothing short of a throat grabbing parable with Purgatorio – rife with revenge and forgiveness it literally vibrates as two people seek to simultaneously destroy and revive.
On the surface, the universality of Purgatorio is as ubiquitous as its title however, like all good writing, it opens itself up for individual scrutiny and meaning. Actor playing Woman, Freya Pragt, offers the adjective unrelenting to describe what Purgatorio means for her in the context of the play.
"It never lets up, it rarely lets you get comfortable and it hardly slows down. Dorfman explores some universally relatable themes within the play- the most predominant are those of betrayal, undying love and redemption. There are also major themes of staying true to oneself and whether in doing so, it is possible (or advisable) to compromise, even for the greater good. How can we be expected to repent for certain deeds without destroying our own identity? Needless to say, these questions are immense and would take eternity to delve into properly- luckily for us Dorfman presents us with a Man and a Woman who battle it out within the parameters of their past relationship- and all in 60minutes!"
All of Dorfman's work is coloured by his personal experiences in Chile as well as a life long commitment towards human rights activism. His most famous work to date is Death and the Maiden which explored, with a more heavy and realistic hand, questions of revenge, forgiveness and doubt. For Pragt, Dorfman's experience is the fuel that powers his work.
"Dorfman is a long collaborator with Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the international centre for Transitional Justice. His first hand experience with political revolution and exile have naturally informed his work and although he has a great deal to say on these matters, in Purgatorio, he is light handed and delicate in his approach. I think it is the way Dorfman explores universal philosophies of equity, reconciliation, redemption and betrayal on a personal level that separates Purgatorio from falling into the category of political fable/parable and allows us to relate to it more naturally."
A graduate of the VCA, Pragt has an impressive number of credits under her belt including: Hamlet, Falling Petals, Noises Off, Because of Reasons and Ubu Roi all for 5pound theatre as well as the 2013 HIT Productions touring smash, It's My Party (And I'll Die If I Want To). She is no stranger to sharing the stage with 5pound Artistic Director Jason Cavanagh and does so again with Purgatorio – Cavanagh playing Man. The production is a joint affair with Attic Erratic with Artistic Director, Celeste Cody, taking the director's seat.
In fact it was a 5pound show that Pragt describes as one of her more challenging roles to date. She played Julia Gillard in the debut production of Robert Reids' Because Of Reasons as part of the 2013 5pound Repertory Season. "Playing such an incredibly high profile person in Australian Politics, who everybody has something to say about was incredibly daunting," admits Pragt. " The fact that this was the first ever production of a new work by a playwright with whom I have a strong working and social relationship was also intimidating. The challenge was not letting extraneous research and wide-spread public opinion, negative or positive, influence my portrayal and the direction of the piece as a whole."
Pragt describes the genesis of her involvement in Purgatorio as an innocent little read through of a play late one night in early June. "I had made a promise to myself that I was not going to take on any more projects before going away to Europe in early August," she says. "The next few months were about keeping my head down and earning some money. That obviously went out the window after this read through in early June. "
The text resonated with Pragt instantly and she was hooked. "I love a complex, articulate argument (in theatre and in life) and the structure, the relationship, the surreal nature of the world and the tragedy were all just too good to pass up. Working with Jason and Celeste again were obvious draw cards too… IT is both a help and a delightful hindrance in rehearsal that we get on like a house on fire!"
Pragt's favourite role to date came when she was 16, playing Azdak (the corrupt, good-natured, drunken judge) in Brecht's' Caucasian Chalk Circle in the year 11 production. The role stirs a fond memory for Pragt because it was one of the first times she felt completely uninhibited on stage.
"At the time I didn't think anything of it but the more I look back on it the more I realise I found a freedom and sort of reckless abandon in that performance that would elude me much of the way through drama school as I started to have to interrogate and analyse my work. It could be due to the fact that as a 16 year old I was pretty enamoured of Johnny Depp's Capt. Jack Sparrow and may have let that filter in a bit…but whatever the case something clicked for me about learning my lines, being supportive of the other actors and just letting everything else go."
Pragt and Cavanagh, under the leadership of Cody, have undergone a significant amount of character work in the early stages of rehearsal to really ensure they could tap into the truth of these people. Explains Pragt: "Because we are in a sort of surreal, imaginary world that still has very grounding moments, deciphering the fact from the metaphors is always a challenge. My process personally is to interrogate the text as thoroughly as possible and not get too carried away with literal interpretations of things (as is my wont). I avoid over- psychoanalysing the character and remember that unless it feeds the way I can play the scene then it is not always useful. Trusting the rhythm in the text and understanding the fundamental relationship between the two characters help me a great deal, too."
For Pragt, Purgatorio poses the excruciatingly mind twisting dilemma that goes: What if the one person who holds the key to our redemption happens to be the person we have hurt most in the world?
Come along to see a short and intense roller coaster on a Mobius strip where none quite knows where or when they are.
July 23 – August 2