Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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Hell Is For Children

October 29, 2009

A scene from Castellucci's Purgatorio

If you think you’ve seen it all on stage, you may want to catch the current offering from UCLA Live’s International Theater Festival, Purgatorio. The piece is from the mind of the Italian theater impresario Romeo Castellucci and his troupe, Socìetas Raffaello Sanzio. And while it is presented on its own here in Los Angeles, Purgatorio has two brethren, Paradiso and Inferno. While all three are inspired by Dante, there’s little about the single work on stage at UCLA’s Freud Playhouse that would tie it to that Italian masterpiece. It’s a complicated, highly psychoanalytic, and often visually gorgeous 100 minutes that may leave you feeling many ways, but certainly not bored in the end. Castellucci addresses themes of sin and redemption on a most primal level and that is bound not to be pretty.

I don't want to give too much away, but it should be noted that Purgatorio is not for children or the faint of heart. The show opens with a gauzy lit and highly-detailed domestic kitchen where a mother, known as “The First Star”, and son, “The Second Star”, go about typical redundant daily life. It’s pretty and so polished and reserved that the mise-en-scene just as easily suggests cinema as it does theater. Soon the father, “The Third Star”, arrives home and the banal expands with text projected on the scrim in front of the stage reinforcing the mundane non-events. And then things start to scream. In one of those David Lynch moments, things get dark really fast and you just know that some of the audience is going to walk out, which they do on cue. That’s not a judgment by the way, but for me it is one of those exciting things where people leave not because they’re bored, but more likely offended or upset. Which, all things considered, is pretty remarkable for a play to be so harrowing that people leave because a nerve has been touched.

And then gears shift again into a third act where the screaming stops and things really get loud. The final scenes go through the looking glass complete with floral video, an art installation, two new actors recast in roles from the first half, and loud industrial music. There’s a lot to look at and think about. Honestly, I’m not sure what it all means, but it has to be seen to be believed. In all fairness, there are some frankly manipulative bits to Purgatorio, but isn’t that what all theater is to begin with anyway? This is an evening with some bite to it, and it's worth your consideration on Friday or Saturday night in the last two performances at UCLA this weekend.


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