By Chuck Graham, TucsonStage.com
Dante (Ryan Parker Knox) and the poet Virgil (David Greenwood) search for wisdom.
Such is the depth of its meaning, you could watch “Dante’s Purgatorio” seven times (one for each of the Seven Deadly Sins) and come away with seven different impressions of the Rogue Theatre play adapted by Patrick Baliani and directed by Joseph McGrath.
Rest assured this robust production is no precious exercise in literary snobbery by academic elitists staged for the benefit of a lettered few. Baliani and the Rogue’s band of earthy artists are dedicated to the bumper sticker commandment “Eschew Obfuscation.”
Maybe you can’t recite a line from Virgil’s epic poem, “The Aeneid,” but everybody in the audience will get it when Virgil (David Greenwood) receives a rock star’s reception from a starry-eyed young poet (Holly Griffith).
We might also note that such excessive adoration is also one of the deadly sins – being covetous; expressing excessive concern for earthly goods.
“Dante’s Purgatorio,” the middle section of the inspired poet’s “Devine Comedy” written from 1308 to his death in 1321, brings a uniquely long view to the Rogue’s versatile performance space. Everyone who loves pure theater will connect with the modern directness of this “Purgatorio.”
If you don’t think our Christian civilization has lost a significant amount of its moral fiber over the last 700 years, consider the likelihood of a comparable major metaphorical masterpiece being written these days.
In the shattered and scattered society we live in today, dominated by survival and selfishness, there simply are no monolithic beliefs of any consequence. Even the power of secular thought dedicated to scientific truth is challenged by the obligations of political correctness on the left and fevered demands disguised as tradition on the right.
Time and again we are indirectly reminded how there are no modern philosophical ideas able to hold sway with the lofty certitude of Christianity in14th century Europe.
Yet, Baliani’s translation bridges this difference by providing pungent flavors from that rigid society so convinced of its holy values, and then with language crisp as today’s television newscasts, gleefully lops off pertinent parts to make a point.
Time and the quality of public education being what they are, brushing up on your Dante may not be a practical approach to appreciating Baliani’s “Purgatorio” at the Rogue anyway. There is just so much to learn.
That’s why it's so great to know the language of the play itself will do all the heavy lifting for you. There is clarity and life in every line.
Ryan Parker Knox has a modern brightness as Dante, being led by Virgil from the lowest level to the highest level of Purgatory.
Greenwood by contrast maintains a classical mien and palpable bittersweet regret as Virgil, the tour guide who knows he will never be admitted into Paradise.
Representing purity and the gateway to Paradise itself is Marissa Garcia in the small but glowing role of Beatrice.
Peopling Purgatory with a rich variety of characters are cast members Gabriella De Brequet, Patty Gallagher, Christopher Johnson, Cynthia Meier, David Morden, Lee Rayment and Griffith.
“Dante’s Purgatorio” continues through May 11 with performances Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. plus Saturday, May 10, also at 2 p.m., always at the Rogue Theatre, 300 E. University Blvd. Tickets are $32, with student rush and other discounts offered. Reservations recommended.
For details and reservations, 520-551-2053, or visit www.theroguetheatre.org