nytheatre.com review by Mitchell Conway
February 10, 2011
Purge is an intense reflection of the violently oppressive and self-contradictory nature of life in Estonia under Soviet rule. Finnish playwright Sofi Oksanen is unrelenting; we are made to feel the great terror through the story of Aliide Truu in the past and present.
The present Aliide, played by Jillian Lindig, is a lonesome woman in independent Estonia, who gets feces smeared on her windows for her past Soviet loyalty. Maren Bush plays the lovestruck and lying younger version of Aliide. The horrific sexual abuse of her young niece by police in front of her and her sister traumatized her such that she gave a false accusation against her family to ensure her own safety. But the denunciation also opened up the possibility of pursuing her love with Hans, her sister's husband. Played by Grant Neale with bursting broken heart, Hans is a revolutionary hiding in Aliide's secret cellar, who desperately longs to see his wife and daughter. Aliide maintains a false reality for him: he is unaware Aliide turned in his wife. In order to keep up appearances, Aliide marries Martin, a loyal party organizer played by Peter Franzen. His well-combed hair, high boots, puffy pants, and bushy mustache fit the expected image of a model Soviet man. He is unkind, insensitive, and awful.
Back in the present, Aliide's granddaughter Zara has been kidnapped and held as a sex-slave by mobsters. Zara, played by Larisa Polonsky, kills her captor and escapes to the home of her grandmother, whom she has never met. Although a more legitimate government is in place, that does not stop abuse of women and control exerted through violence and fear.
The set design by Zishan Ugurlu—jagged white platforms with a glass window at the back and scattered birch trees—is fitting. The landscape is more than a little askew, and it is acknowledged by people's movements and actions, but never spoken of. The birch trees are mentioned when Aliide tells how Martin died from going outside and examining dust on the leaves shortly after Tchernobyl, denying anything could have gone wrong, since it was not acknowledged by the government.
There are pure evil characters (Soviet soldiers and mob hit men), and characters corrupted or driven mad by evil influence. It all burns: the never-ending reverberations of violence. We are given this indictment, but provided no answers.