Patrick Baliani has skipped hell and meets up with Dante and Virgil in “Purgatorio.”
The Tucson playwright’s adaptation of the middle canto of poet Dante Alighieri’s classic “Divine Comedy” has its world premiere on The Rogue Theatre stage, opening in previews today.
It’s the vivid first canto, “Inferno,” that has inspired art from the stage to the canvas to the music halls.
If a staged version of “Purgatorio” has ever been done, Baliani couldn’t find it (nor could we).
“In ‘Purgatorio’ you have hope, yearning and transformation that you don’t have in ‘Inferno’ or ‘Paradisio,’” the first and third cantos of Dante’s epic poem, says Baliani, who went straight to the Italian for his translation.
Here’s a primer on Dante’s “Divine Comedy” — and some insights on the production from Baliani and director Joseph McGrath.
Dante wrote “Divine Comedy” over about eight years in the early part of the 14th century, and his persistence paid off: It is still considered one of the greatest pieces of literature in the world. It details Dante’s journey from hell to the heavens, an allegory for the soul’s journey toward redemption.
In “Purgatorio,” Dante and his guide, Virgil, have just travelled through hell and are ready for purgatory, where souls do their penance in preparation for entrance into heaven.
This is not an easy journey. They start at the foot of the Mount of Purgatory and must climb up through seven levels, each representing one of the seven deadly sins (those would be pride, envy, wrath, greed, gluttony, sloth and lust). Pride is the first stop, and the furthest from God. Lust is the last stop before entrance to Paradise is possible. Virgil guides Dante through purgatory, but when they reach the summit of the mountain, it is Beatrice, the poet’s great love, who takes over as guide.
The playwright’s perspective
Audiences will identify: “Any one of us is more likely to find ourselves in purgatory; I don’t think any of us is ready for paradise.”
The Christian connection: “Every age is conflicted over what we can know rationally and know through faith. … In Dante’s case, it was a re-envisioning of what it meant to be a Christian. … I’m hoping (the play) will seem emblematic of any religious quest.”
The power of the poem: “Dante was a Christian, but what he rendered was a kind of mythology that speaks to everyone. … He spoke of timeless, universal truths.”
The director’s perspective
Out of the shadows: McGrath will incorporate shadow play to depict the journey through the sins. “It’s basically actors behind a white cloth projecting silhouettes. There’s a lot of references to shades in Dante, so a lot of those spirits we encounter in purgatory will be shadows.”
The big picture: “Life is a constant struggle with morality and what we feel, what we need, what we learn in order to become better people. I think ‘Purgatorio’ is a metaphor for ... that journey of finding balance.”
That Christian connection again: “I was raised Catholic and I’m always thinking about the world I was brought up in and it’s meaning — confession, communion and all the Catholic sacraments. Working on this play has illuminated a lot of that for me. … We’re dealing with Christian mythology, and it’s so revealing. It’s powerful stuff.”