Tag: Ariel Dorfman


Two dark and hellish tales

By Myron My

It’s not as an easy thing to go and explore the darker side of your humanity. For most, it’s the potential repercussions of those actions that prevent us from going any further than a fleeting thought. Citizen Theatre, in association with 5pound theatre and Attic Erratic Theatre, present Inferno: A Double Bill, two distinctly different yet thematically similar plays that question what it is that makes us human and how far would we go to get what we want.


The first play by Irish playwright Mark O’Rowe, Crestfall, follows three women living in a tough and brutal town who are dealing with the abuse and hardness that characterises their location. While the performances themselves by Freya Pragt, Marissa O’Reilly and Marissa Bennett are highly committed and convincing, it was very difficult to engage with and remain engaged with the show the whole time.

Although the material is harrowing, and it therefore becomes difficult at times to listen to the women’s stories, the main issue for me was that the actors do such a good job with the accents, that at times you miss out on what is being said while trying to understand the thick brogue. It doesn’t happen often but it happens enough that I found it prevents you from being completely absorbed by what is happening.

With a minimalist stage design of bare white walls and a white-painted ladder, an unfortunately ineffective lighting design, and – while not a fault of the show itself but more to do with the choice of venue – the noise coming from the Speakeasy occurring one floor above, it was very difficult to stay absorbed in this world and fully comprehend the plight these women faced.

After a short intermission, the second of the double bill, Ariel Dorfman’s Purgatorio is performed, which, to be perfectly frank, is brilliant. Directed by Celeste Cody, it has the markings of an Attic Erratic performance with its emphasis on creating flawed and authentic characters that drive the plot.

Purgatorio finds a couple that must atone for their sins and learn to forgive each other if they are to be set free. The intelligent stage design for the show helps build the isolation and uncertainty that the couple find themselves in. The audience is split in two, sitting on either end of the stage and with a black scrim screen between the two performers, there are substantial periods of times where you can only hear and not see the other performer.

Pragt returns as the Woman and is just as focused and committed as she was in Crestfall. There is a moment when Pragt is handling a knife, and watching how she held and interacted with it displayed the level of skill and nuance she has in allowing the character take her over. Jason Cavanagh as the Man manages to convey a broken figure who is devastated but at the same time angry at what has been done to him, and finds the perfect balance of difficult emotions in his portrayal. The interactions between the two are gripping throughout and demand our attention.

While both plays in Inferno: A Double Bill take a look at what it is that makes us be human and questions why we do the things we do, i found the overall production of Crestfall to be rather disappointing. It seems rely too much on the skills of its excellent actors and not enough on creating the environment and mood of the piece. Purgatorio, on the other hand, brings together a variety of theatrical devices and creates a unique and visceral theatre experience. 

Venue: L1 Studios, 1/377 Little Bourke St, Melbourne, 3000
Season: Until 14 February | Tues -Sun, Crestfall 7.15pm, Purgatorio 9pm
Tickets: Both shows: $42 Full | $38 Conc, Single show: $28 Full | $22 Conc
Bookings: Citizen Theatre


In the hands of the leading lady

By Bradley Storer

The opening image of Melbourne Theatre Company‘s highly anticipated production of Death and the Maiden, the intensely political and unsettlingly violent work of Ariel Dorfman, is striking and instantly ratchets the tension to maximum level – a lone woman in a darkened room, stirred to action by the sound of an approaching car, creeps through the darkness and conceals herself in the corner, the revolving stage giving an eerie flipbook-like effect as the woman slowly reveals a gun. In this single image the blurred boundaries between the domestic, civilisation and the dark savage underbelly of human nature which Dorman sets out to explore is already laid out for the audience.

Death and the Maiden

Set in an unnamed country, inspired by post-fascist Chile but potentially any country emerging from under tyranny, Death and the Maiden examines the slow recovery from politically-sanctioned atrocity and horror on both the personal and national level through the lens of differing characters. The trio presented include a victim of the former fascist regime and its unspeakable methods, Paulina (Susie Porter), her husband Gerardo (Steve Mouzakis), the lawyer who is now part of the government committee dedicated to uncovering the atrocities of the former regime, and Roberto (Eugene Gilfedder), a doctor whose unexpected incurrence into the lives of Paulina and Gerardo sets off the whirlwind of terror and violence which engulfs the rest of the play.

Unfortunately, only in the performance of Porter does the extent of Dorfman’s bleak vision truly come to fruition. She morphs from an uncertain and flighty creature, beset by unknown fears, into a facade of iron-hard determination and self-righteous fury that maintains the central ambiguity of Paulina’s character: whether she is a victim of horrific trauma and gruesome torture that has driven her to insanity, or a woman empowered to throw off the chains of victimhood and become an terrible avenging angel against her former tormentors.

Mouzakis and Gilfedder do not fare as well, their earlier scenes which communicate the bulk of the work’s political background sapping all of the tension and drive from the performance. They improve as the play goes on but sadly lose momentum whenever Porter leaves the stage. Nick Schlieper‘s revolving set does much to symbolically comment on the cyclical nature of violence and victimhood, but slowly loses its impact as the play goes on – its use in Gerardo’s final monologue leaves the last mystery of the play more confusing than intended.

Perhaps this production of Death and the Maiden is not the definitive one, but the performance of Porter is to be commended for its bravery, delving into the darkest and rawest areas of the human psyche that Dorfman is preoccupied with, bringing out the violence and cruelty that Is suggested to lurk within us all.

Venue: The Sumner, Southbank Theatre, 140 Southbank Boulevard, Southbank
Dates: 18 July – 22 August, 2015
Price: $36 – $109
Bookings: At the venue, www.mtc.com.au, 03 86880800