Purgatorio | 5pound Theatre and Attic ErraticI admit to not knowing very much about this play prior to seeing it. I remember seeing Death And The Maiden, the movie version of the playwright's best known work – though perhaps not the most important by the prolific writer, thinker and teacher, Ariel Dorfman. And I remember always coming away from 5pound Theatre productions feeling satisfied.

Going in blind like this added to the sense of intrigue, of wondering just what was going on, which enhanced the whole experience, and I'd suggest that you do the same. Which means I'm suggesting you don't read the rest of this review. Just go along and see Purgatorio if you want a shortish play that deals with some big ideas about human nature, love, redemption, forgiveness and revenge. That's my short review.

Here's a longer version:

The play opens with a woman prowling what appears to be a cell. Could be prison. Could be in a mental institution. She seems tormented, would like to not be here. Oddly, there is a knife inside her cell.

A man appears outside her cell wall and proceeds to calmly interrogate the woman. He asks questions but his air is one of already knowing all the answers. His questions are leading. He wants a confession, knows there is one in there, is determined to get it. As it turns out though, he wants a lot more than just a confession.

Suddenly the situation switches. A man. A room that could be a prison cell. A female interrogator asking questions that she knows the answers to. Where are they? What have they done? Have they done it to each other? What do they want from each other. What is going on here?

The characters' back story is based on a classic, tragic myth (not telling you which one) and what might become of them as they wait in purgatory. Their stories do unfold and become clear through these interrogations and we see that at least in this case, love, hate, revenge, forgiveness and redemption are complicated beyond solution when taken to such extremes. And the crimes committed here are indeed quite extreme. Brutal revenge has been taken, forgiveness seems unfathomable, and yet these two characters seem caught up in a reluctant, twisted, volatile, eternal kind of love.

The audience is split into two because the stage is divided into two by a an opaque curtain representing the room's wall. I'm not sure why the play was staged like this. We could see the other character and the rest of the audience through the curtain, just not very clearly. Perhaps it was way of demonstrating division, of motivations being one sided. Perhaps the audience(s) came away with slightly different perspectives. Perhaps it was none of the above and I should stop speculating about the symbolism of the curtain and move on to the quality of the acting.

The acting was amply capable of dealing with this simple yet weirdly complex story. Freya Pragt as the woman and Jason Cavanagh as the man both had to switch between cold, calm accuser and complex, messed up human trapped by their actions and motivations in a place they don't (and perhaps do) want to be. Pragt was in good form as she finally revealed the treachery of her acts and still managing to elicit some unexpected sympathy from this audience member. Her story demonstrates that treachery doesn't always appear out of the blue, and that you can't seek revenge without having a reason for it. Perhaps if I was on the other side of the curtain (he's on about the curtain again) I might have been more affected by Cavanagh's sense of yearning for something that could never be. Both played well off each other, especially given that they were mostly obscured from each others view for most of the play. And especially as the play is a bit of a head-bender; it's not set in our world or time, and time has simultaneously stopped and goes on forever, stuck as the characters are in an eternal loop.

Enjoyable on every level. I give it four curtains.

5pound Theatre and Attic Erratic present
by Ariel Dorfman

Director Celeste Cody

Venue: The Owl and the Pussycat | 34 Swan St, Richmond VIC
Dates: 23 Jul – 2 Aug, 2014
Tickets: $20.00 – $25.00
Bookings: www.5pound.com.au

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