This isn’t Dante’s Inferno. It isn’t disco inferno either. I don’t know whose inferno this is. But it’s not Dante’s. Dante’s Inferno is a story of a poet’s visit to Hell, where he views the wrath of God being visited upon sinners, each in their own measure. Dante’s Inferno may be a hell of a show, but it’s mostly a story of the good guy beating up the bad guys to save a lady in distress, and it owes more to the story of Eurydice and Orpheus than it does to Dante.
In Dante’s Inferno — the real one — Dante, awash in misery over his own sinful life, is taken in hand by the great Roman poet Virgil (who has been sent by Beatrice, the symbol of divine love) in order to show Dante the afterlife. Virgil first takes Dante to Hell, which is a series of concentric circles, starting from the least culpable (those who lived virtuous lives, but did not know God) to the most (those who betrayed their benefactors). Each of these sinners have received a punishment which peculiarly fits the crime. Thus, for example, those who committed the sin of lust are constantly blown about by strong winds, just as, presumably, their lusts blew them around from object to object. Beatrice, incidentally, was probably modeled on Beatrice Portinari, a woman Dante loved (from a distance) who died (of natural causes) when he was about twenty-five.
But in Dante’s Inferno Dante (Vato Tsikurishvili), is bereft at the news that Beatrice (Tori Bertocci) has died, an apparent suicide. He resolves to go to Hell itself to rescue her, and guided by Virgil (Alex Mills), crosses the River Acheron in a ferry. In the water around him, the souls of the damned writhe and flounder. Eventually they land on the shores of Hell, where they see more of the damned tossed about by devils, led by a mean-looking creature played by the ever-menacing Philip Fletcher. The principal means of torment appears to be invisible whips; there is much flaying and lashing, after which the devils stuff the tormented down trap doors, presumably to some other damned place.
I could recognize the punishment doled out to the greedy and the soothsayers (although some background is required to match crime to punishment for them), but the rest of it appears to be a mish-mash: lashing, thrashing, and down the trap door. Eventually Dante sees Beatrice and, (spoiler alert) after thumping a bunch of devils takes her to a better place.
There may be a couple of reasons Synetic decided to transform the greatest poem in Western literature to something along the lines of a David Baldacci novel. One is that Vato Tsikurishvili, who is built like an NFL free safety, is a very convincing devil-thumper. But the more important, I think, is that Synetic has elected to do this production entirely without words, which means without context, explanation, or narrative. What you see is what you get. And, frankly, without words you can’t get that much.
Synetic! Use your words! Or use Dante’s words! Or use somebody’s words! The Inferno is a marvelously visual story, and is tailor-made for Synetic’s highly-visual storytelling. But without words to explain what we’re seeing and why we’re seeing it, the meaning of this fourteenth-century poem will remain locked away from us.
closes October 30, 2016
Details and tickets
I know that Synetic can do justice to The Inferno because they already have — in a 2009 production which may have been the best thing they’ve ever done. The understated dialogue of that production was sufficient to open up a large portion of Dante’s meaning, and the Synetic team was able to do its imaginative best to illuminate Dante’s text. Here, without words, Synetic was limited to informing us, basically, that it’s not cool to go to Hell.
Of course, it is Synetic, which means that the production values are off the charts. Konstantine Lortkipanidze’s wonderful score is suitably dramatic; Anastasia Simes’ costume and set design are nicely hellish; the set is full of lithe bodies, leaping and twisting in agony and despair with precision. There are plenty of agreeable things to watch. I just wish they meant more.
Dante’s Inferno, adapted by Paata Tsikurishvili and Nathan Weinberger from the poem The Inferno by Dante Alighieri . directed by Irina Tsikurishvili, who was assisted by Irakli Kavsadze and Tori Bertocci . Featuring Vato Tsikurishvili (who was also responsible for fight choreography), Tori Bertocci, Alex Mills (who also served as movement director), Philip Fletcher, Lauren Ashley, Chris Galindo, Justin J. Bell, Emma Lou Hebert, Katrina Clark, Anne Flowers, Shu-nan Chu, John Millward, Kathryn Elizabeth Kelly, Chris Willumsen, and George Kamushadze. Costume and scenicdesign by Anastasia Simes . Lighting design by Mary Keegan . Music by Konstantine Lortkipandze. Music direction by Irakli Kavsadze . Stage Manager Marley Giggey . Produced by Synetic Theater, Reviewed by Tim Treanor.