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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Assistant professor writes a theatrical adaptation of ‘Dante’s Purgatorio’

    Although “The Divine Comedy” by Dante Alighieri has inspired countless artistic creations, particularly of his “Inferno” canto, until recently no one had produced a prominent theater adaptation of the second canto, “Purgatorio”.

    Patrick Baliani, assistant professor of interdisciplinary studies at the UA Honors College, wrote the play adaptation now showing at the Rogue Theatre.

    Baliani began the project in summer 2011 by translating the original text as literally and “with as much humility” as he could. Once he had gained confidence in his translation, he was able to arrange the pieces and “extrapolate the meaning” to fit his own production.

    The result is a performance in which the main character, Dante, finds himself trying to navigate Purgatory with the poet Virgil as his guide. Though he has made it out of Hell, Dante must cleanse his soul in order to ascend into Paradise. Purgatory is a mountain made of seven layers, each representing one of the seven deadly sins that Dante must overcome in order to move forward.

    The production uses shadow play to emphasize the role that shadows and ghosts play in “Dante’s Inferno.” A screen is set up behind the actors, which allows for the easy creation and manipulation of light and silhouettes to create the desired shadowing effect.

    Baliani cut out many of the characters that appear in Dante’s poem instead, choosing one character from each level of sin that he felt was the most relevant and representative.

    “I think people don’t recognize how like our own existence [“Purgatorio”] is,” Baliani said. He added that much of the reason “Purgatorio” has been overlooked thus far is that people tend to associate it with punishment, when really it’s more joyful.

    “Inferno” may attract the most attention, but Baliani said he finds it “static,” while “Purgatorio” is “active with yearning and desire.”

    “Many [students] had to read ‘Inferno’ in high school, [but] to see a part of Dante’s work on stage is a whole new experience,” said Emily Franklin, one of Baliani’s students. “The medium of theater opens new views and interpretations not considered before.”

    The play dates back to the early 14th century, but Baliani believes “the way humans feel and think hasn’t changed” since the poem’s conception.

    Baliani said the play is a good fit for college students in particular due to its transformative themes. Dante is in between Inferno and Paradise, in much the same way that college students are in between youth and adulthood.

    Purgatory is a physical place, but Baliani perceives it as a symbol of a right of passage.

    “You have to go through something in order to understand what happened before and what’s going to happen in the future,” Baliani said.

    Christina Petsas, a sophomore studying communication and Spanish and Portuguese, saw the play and said it “appeals to students because it examines different temptations that we deal with in college, but gives hope for improvement and the attainment of grace.”

    As a teacher, Baliani said he knows academia can be either very exciting or very dry. He kept that in mind while recreating the play and tried for a “vibrantly academic” feel. Furthermore, he thinks “Purgatorio” is applicable to many of the subjects students are studying or have studied because “it touches on everything” and “is such a foundation of Western civilization that students will enjoy it and learn from it.”

    To Baliani, the theater holds significance because he thinks that people lose touch with themselves when they always resort to a medium without a human body.

    Baliani said going to the theater represents an opportunity to become part of the art and for the audience to be part of the experience. As such, a discussion is held at the end of the play.
    “The talkback with the actors and director after the performance creates a discussion where these big ideas can be hashed out and considered from new angles,” Franklin said.

    This past Sunday marked the first sold-out show, and Baliani said he has seen the same people attend multiple performances.
    Baliani said he believes the greatest takeaway from the experience are the themes of redemption and forgiveness.

    “I think it can help people understand how to be better,” he said.

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