Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

BWW Reviews: PURGATORIO - A Story of Feeling and Reflection

Ariel Dorfman's Purgatorio is a dark and challenging story that depicts some of the inherent contradictions and most base elements of that seemingly simple human emotion known as love. Presented by 5Pound theatre and Attic Erratic and directed by Celeste Cody, this production is bound to shock, challenge, force contemplation and self interrogation, and deliver an emotional theatre experience like few others.

Dorfman's play about self-reflection emanates from the Ancient Greek tale of Medea, chronicling the path of a man and women on a seemingly eternal journey towards redemption. Playing the lead roles of man and woman are Jason Cavanagh and Freya Pragt. Both deliver memorable performances, offering commanding displays of emotions that range the full spectrum.

Cavanagh and Pragt exude a deep passion and depth in their respective performances, with each memorable for different reasons. Pragt's depiction of the woman is as disturbing as it is impressive, with Freya able to impressively depict a seemingly psychopathic woman who is on the precipice. The depth of the body language and mood conveyed by Pragt makes her character all the more chilling and dark. It is not a performance that relies on dramatic over acting. Rather, Pragt draws on a range of subtle and finer physical dimensions to offer a depiction of the woman that is scary for both the nature of the character and the commanding nature of the performance.

Cavanagh, on the other hand, exerts more of a physical presence in his depiction of the man. The man is certainly not as psychologically plagued as the woman, but he still has his challenges to confront. The dialogue and the stage presence of the character bring out the masculine sport and performance metaphors central to the male character, while also highlighting the issues he faces. Jason's performance is commanding for both its emotional and physical presence and his ability to convey both the powerful presence and inherent vulnerability of the man. Even though he is not always fully visible, the audience is in no doubt about his presence.

Greatly aiding the performance is the staging design, which conveys the idea of solitude and enforced reflection in a simple yet powerful manner. Eerily reminiscent of a confessional, or a solitary confinement cell where the occupant is under constant observation and inquisition, the staging clearly communicates how each character has little alternative but that of self-reflection on the path that led them to limbo. That self reflection is not going to be easy for either of them. The staging design also reinforces the idea that understanding and reflecting on love involves more than what you can physically see. The reflection confronting the man and woman is not easy, forcing them to embark on an arduous journey that cripples them with every imaginable emotion and places them at the mercy of those who ultimately control their actions and destiny. As the characters bargain, plead, weep, and grapple with their destiny the audience is far from a passive observer, with the characters' emotions and challenges making it impossible for the audience to not consider the chilling plight they are witnessing and form their own verdict.

Almost every line of dialogue has impact - a telling tribute to the script and the delivery. This impact is only heightened by the play being one act with no intermission. At times the content is chilling in its ability to link love to the deeds of the man and woman - something that forces contemplation on the notion of love and how it is materialized in life, and how such a commonly used word can trigger such a different reaction in different people. As Dorfman's play demonstrates, love can trigger acts of hate, spite, vengeance, and suffering, with these acts all built around the same core emotion. There is no escaping love and its complex implications for the two characters in Purgatorio. It is similar for the audience who, just like the characters, are forced to confront the deep challenges and contradictions that the story remorselessly presents. There is no escape or relief for the audience, with the play presented without an interval. This is not a bad thing by any means - in fact much of the impact comes from the fact that there is no respite for anyone.

At the center of Dorfman's play is the idea of love and its often-conflicting nature. Dorfman depicts love as an all-powerful emotion that is at the heart of the most basic of human actions. It is the execution of such actions that has brought the man and woman to this state of purgatory and it is only by reconciling these actions that they have any hope of redemption. This puts the man and woman in a position where they must reconcile the love they had with the staggering actions that it generated. Both man and woman realize that despite their actions, despite the reprehensibility of their deeds, despite how they may now feel, they are now alone in purgatory. Alone - with only each other as a source of redemption. Alone - with an eternity to work it all out.

Confronting and raw in emotion, Purgatorio is an epic journey, one that you should embark on while you have the chance. There is more to understanding love than what you see.

WHEN: 23 July - 2 August
TIME: 7:30pm, Tuesday to Saturday
WHERE: The Owl and the Pussycat, 34 Swan Street, Richmond, 3121
PRICE: $20 - $25
WEB: Owl and Pussycat Theatre -; 5pound theatre -

IMAGE CREDITS: Supplied by Jason Cavanagh

Buy at the Theatre Shop

T-Shirts, Mugs, Phone Cases & More
Branded Broadway Merch

Related Articles View More Australia - Melbourne Stories

From This Author Brett Considine

Les Miserables was the first stage show I saw and since then I have enjoyed the wonder of the performing arts. While I work in (read more...)