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Regional Reviews: Seattle

Purgatorio at Seattle Repertory Theatre

Dan Snook and Charlayne Woodard
Seattle Repertory Theatre is presenting the world premiere of a Purgatorio, a new play by Ariel Dorfman, who is best known for his acclaimed play Death and the Maiden. This production also heralds the Seattle directorial debut of the company's new artistic director David Esbjornson. While it is clear from the production that Esbjornson is an extremely welcome addition to Seattle's artistic community, it is equally evident that the play he chose for the occasion has not yet found a sure footing.

Purgatorio is set in an icy, sterile white room, reminiscent of a mental hospital room, with several seemingly identical rooms visible upstage. Under David Esbjornson's own production design, scenic designer Nick Schwartz-Hall creates a palatable eeriness, also evoked by Scott Zielinski's chilly lighting (which bursts upon the audience after they have entered a purposely dimly lit auditorium) and Elizabeth Hope Clancy's unadorned costumes.

A man (Dan Snook) and a woman (Charlayne Woodard) take turns being the interrogator and subject, and it is soon clear that this pair are in fact the legendary Jason and Medea, but neither recognizes the other during the interrogations, which are allegedly being viewed and videotaped. Medea, the original desperate housewife if ever there was one, is still mad as hell about Jason's betrayals which ultimately lead to her killing the couple's two precious sons, and Jason remains self-righteous. The cycle of interrogations will clearly continue, as the pair cannot repent their sins and move on to salvation.

Dorfman's script, in general, is as icy as the set design. There is nothing that makes us want to root for two such despicable characters, and short of that, the playwright falters at making them even captivating monsters. Ninety minutes spent with them feels a good deal longer, though Esbjornson paces the action well enough. Woodard is her usual luminous self as both the tempestuous Medea and the staid interrogator, and she has the more interesting character to play. In her capable hands the sequence in which she describes killing her two sons is truly riveting. Snook doesn't have an equivalent moment in the script, but he delivers a solid performance nonetheless. But in keeping the pair from recognizing each other from their lives on Earth, Dorfman prevents the kind of confrontation that seems so desperately missing. Purgatorio is an intriguing missed opportunity at this juncture, but a respectable one which begs for a rewrite by its talented author.

Purgatorio runs through November 26 at Seattle Repertory Theatre, 2nd and Mercer in Seattle Center. For more information visit

Photo: Chris Bennion

- David-Edward Hughes

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