Monday, Feb. 1, 2010

The Charm Of Purgatory

The Intrinsic Appeal of Next Act’s Purgatorio

By Russ Bickerstaff
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In a magazine somewhere in the mid-1980’s, I ran across a brilliantly minimalist narrative piece called Nogard. The premise was very simple: Take an epic hero—one who has been through a long series of breathtaking adventures conquered adversity and come through it all to become legendary--take this hero and put him or her into a vacuum and see what happens. This is the intrinsic appeal of Ariel Dorfman’s PurgatorioNext Act’slatest play. We get to see the ancient heroes Jason and Medea removed from the legends they come from. Jason is removed from the Argo and his quest for the Golden Fleece. Medea is removed from her part in that quest. Stripped of everything else, they’re in a very institutional room. It’s all very sterile. Each one of them is alone—being questioned about questionable decisions they’ve made by someone in a lab coat. It’s the same kind of appeal that Nogard had. It’s very haunting. But it’d be excessively boring in the wrong hands.

That’s what’s really haunting about Next Act’s Purgatorio to me . . . I’ve seen actors David Cecsarini and Angela Iannone in quite a few productions over the years. Being in a position where I was going to be writing a preview about the show for the Shepherd, I had to spend some time reading a bit of the script and visualizing what the dynamic between the two of them was going to be like in those roles. As I imagined Cecsarini and Iannone performing those lines onstage at the Off-Broadway Theatre, I was able to pretty accurately anticipate things down to individual tones and inflections. And I walked out of the theatre last Friday getting pretty much exactly what I’d expected. And in spite of this, I’m still thinking back on the performance and thinking about how impressive it was. To get exactly what you expect out of a performance and still be impressed is kind of what you hope for out of any performance. It’s quite rare when that actually happens.

Next Act’s Purgatorio runs through February 21st at the Off-Broadway Theatre. A comprehensive review of the show appears in this week’s Shepherd-Express

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