Reinventing The Theatre

A mother prepares dinner in a sumptuously decorated upper-middle-class apartment, her movements slow and deliberate as she moves among the cold, stainless steel appliances of the kitchen, preparing dinner for her son waiting nearby. Their conversation is banal, barely audible. Despite the seemingly commonplace setting and actions, however, an eerie tension grows, almost palpable as we wait for some sort of a release. Much of the action in Purgatorio, Romeo Castellucci’s experimental approach to Dante Alighieri’s second part of the Divine Comedy, stretches on in this manner for the majority of the play, with a sense of sadness that grows so greatly under the pressure of the monotony, one hardly flinches when it finally bursts.

The play’s Italian-born writer and director, Romeo Castellucci, debuted at the age of 20 as a theatrical producer, quickly establishing the Socìetas Raffaello Sanzio with Chiara Guidi and Claudia Castellucci in 1981. He went on to write and produce a litany of other productions, including, notably, the 37th Venice Biennale’s theater section, titled Pompeii: The Novel of the Ash, for which he received a UBU award in 2006. He is a prolific writer, having published numerous books and essays on his personal theories of stagecraft and dramaturgy.  His ideas for a new kind of theater have earned him international notoriety. Castellucci’s chief aim has been to liken theater to more integrally perceptible arts, such as music or painting, that can be appreciated on a level that exists somewhere above spoken language.

The play, co-produced by UCLA Live and showing at the Freud Playhouse until tomorrow night, certainly embodies Castellucci’s vision for this new kind of theater. It is intensely personal, taking the themes of sin and forgiveness so integral to Alighieri’s Purgatorio and twisting them into a play that is both surprisingly devoid of action yet intensely moving and disturbing.  While Dante’s journey through purgatory is a literal climb up a mountain in which he sheds the sins of his life in order to gain redemption, Castellucci’s modern rendering, centered around father, mother, and son  (perhaps the holy trinity?)  feels like a slide down into sin, with redemption coming when one least expects it, if at all.

Castellucci’s denial of a clear narrative allows him to delve into the dreamlike world of the story’s son and grapple with issues of morality abstractly rather than directly. We are moved not by the action but the lack thereof, the empty dialogue, the formal yet soft warmth of Castellucci’s lighting and set design supported by Scott Gibbon’s at once delicate and abrasive musical score. It is deliberate and rich and methodical. It is extraordinarily painful. It is profoundly beautiful. It is playing in America for the first time and not for long, so take advantage of a kind of theater you are unlikely to experience again any time soon.

- By Helen Kearns

Societas Raffaello Sanzio’s Purgatorio runs at UCLA Live’s Freud Playhouse through tomorrow evening, October 31 at 8pm.  For more information, please call (310) 825-2000 or click here.

Comments are closed Trackback

Comments are closed.