Dante's Divina Commedia - Inferno
nytheatre.com review by Kelly Aliano
August 16, 2009
Dante's Divina Commedia – Inferno, directed by Rene Migliaccio and performed by Alessio Bordoni, is a postmodern take on telling Dante's epic tale of the descent into Hell. Bordoni gives a tour de force performance, narrating several of the classic work's Cantos while interpreting and presenting their meaning through his body.
The entire performance is given in Italian, with only a few English "intertitles"—text appears before a section giving a brief description of the key events contained in that particular Canto. The use of Italian means that unless you know the language, or are extremely familiar with the text, the tale is being conveyed to you through Bordoni's movements, the music underscoring the piece, and the supplemental projections rather than through the monologues. All of the action occurs behind a translucent scrim, lit in such a way as to make the actor and musician visible, but to leave them ensconced in an eerie glow. On the front of the scrim, various images are shown, ones that do not so much encompass the play's events as reveal aspects of these events' inner meanings and the internal strife inflicted on the narrator by what is transpiring. Bordoni is accompanied by Aminda Asher on cello, whose musical interludes complete the piece's dark, surreal mood.
Even if one understands the play's text, this is not traditional storytelling by any stretch of the imagination. The piece is a true directorial triumph for Migliaccio, who has created a consistent and compelling stage picture that is difficult to tear one's eyes away from. In particular, the play's opening moment, in which a light suddenly comes on to reveal the cellist, dressed all in white with white face makeup, is startling and stunning. The work leaves one to contemplate how we do—or can—or could tell a story on stage. Must we follow the words of the text to follow a play's meaning? Need every stage image reflect something concrete in order to constitute a coherent stage design? Is there any element of a theatrical production that encompasses the "play" more so than the others? Or is a play some combination of those pieces, some mixture of the familiar and the unknown, untested, undiscovered?
This theatrical piece is not for everyone. I believe that it would be challenging to follow the events of Dante's Divina Commedia – Inferno if a spectator did not have at least some familiarity with the original text. However, for those who do see this play, they will be left with an indelible impression when the play is over. They will be reminded that one is capable of finding an innovative way of taking a well-known classic and creating something new and unique with it.