Review By Rowan Brunt
Stacks On Theatre’s Production by Chilean- American writer Ariel Dorfman is a dramatic continuation of the Jason and Medea tragedy of Greek myth origin. The work dives into questions of justice and forgiveness and asks are there crimes that can ever be forgiven or justified even if it is our lover that created the horror. Facing the hard truths of our lives is the only way to be set free and allow us to move forwards.
As the piece starts we see Woman, played by Jessica Paterson, in the space dressed in simple black and Man, played by James Thomasson, in the same blacks with a white lab coat, bring to mind a patient and therapist. As the piece progresses we come to learn that Woman in all her stubbornness and resistance is being forced to confront her wrong doings in her afterlife and is being watched constantly by some big brother-esque higher corporate powers. The Man, whilst her therapist of some kind, seems to care deeply about the rehabilitation of Woman and wishing her to move to the other side. We come to learn she must acknowledge her partner abandoning her to marry another woman and subsequent events of, in her pain and scorn, the murder of their two children. It is at this point we come to realise this is a retelling of the Jason and Medea saga in some kind of Dante-es que purgatory.
Paterson as Woman, has a commanding voice that pulls the audience into her cause and a strength on stage that even through the retelling of her horrors makes us side with her power, retaining that presence even as she switches from victim to the accuser. Where Paterson excels is the breast beating passion that Woman's once had for her husband and the glimmer she retains. The stillness that Paterson draws on is captivating and almost regal suitable to the grandiose nature of this character.
Thomasson’s Man, our broken hero of Jason, is introduced in the second half of the piece coming across with a joviality that is slightly unsettling until we start to dig deeper and realise he is just a lost purgatorial soul fronting to get ahead.
The space at Flow Studios is not a theatrical space in its traditional sense. It is more a gallery, workshop space that has allowed a blank canvas for Stacks On Theatre’s production to create a playing space for this work. Director Lachlan Stevenson presents to us a clinical space, is it a prison, is it an asylum, with a single bed and two chairs inhabiting the space and a string of glowing lights encompassing the space. The simplistic use of the glowing strip lighting is quite effective in creating the prison for our captors and a hauntingly melodic and sombre sound design allows a tragic element perfect for this myth beyond the strictures of time. Where the spaces lets down the production is the architectural elements out of Stacks On Theatres control; planes flying over mid actors speeches; sunlights meaning no black out is truly black; limited space so transitions between scenes are laboured and long. These elements are out of the productions control but do pull the audience out of the work being done on stage.
Stacks On Theatre presents Purgatorio with much success as without the bells and whistles on a MainStage production hone in on the text and the relationship being woven and undone on stage which makes a tense captivating night at the theatre.