I would like to dedicate this review of Alejandro de la Costa’s Dante : Inferno to my eighth grade Latin teacher : Connie Trump. Mrs. Trump was one of my favorite teachers, and she had a gift for jazzing up a dry subject like Latin with lots of juicy, lurid details from Roman history, such as: orgies, feral children, Oedipus, etc, etc. So too, does Mr. De La Costa. He (working with Translator/Director Mark-Brian Sonna) manages to suffuse the stage piece with lots of icky, disturbing, sexy, intriguing tidbits, while by no means condoning sinful behavior. Costa knows how to cultivate tawdriness while still cleaving to the literary and historical particulars. Like Mrs. Trump, he understands how absorbing the classics can be, if the buzzkills can just stop omitting the best parts.
Dante : Inferno invites us along as the great poet Virgil takes Dante on a special tour through the various circles of Hell, each one worse than the next. Dante meets numerous famous mythological and historical figures, including Charon, Ulysses, Beatrice, Helen of Troy, each explaining the egregious sin they committed to condemn them to eternal torment. Each punishment is specifically targeted at a particular transgression. If I stole your jellyroll, I’m forced to eat stale doughnuts for all eternity. This sort of thing. It all culminates with the last three, worst offenders standing naked before Satan in the final circle ( I think one is Judas Iscariot?) where he desecrates them by smearing them with sh*t or dirt or some such drek. Clearly Dante has very strong and well-articulated ideas about the nature of sin, and why certain acts are more heinous than others.
Mark-Brian Sonna certainly has an intuitive flair for spectacle, and talented, often visually exquisite actors. Putting his background in dance and choreography to good use, he coordinates tableaux and clusters of performers that often function (for lack of better word) as sets. Three actors to create triple-headed hound Cereberus, two to play a giant. Sonna also knows how to keep our attention and provide some sorely needed comic respite. A sequence in the second act features Evilclaw and Eviltail, two jabbering demons that elicit helpless giggles and some relief from the prevalent agony, terror and despair. The rhetorical tendencies of the script provide a kind of buffer between sense and sensibility, which is a defensible, if dubious, strategy. It is important to preserve the tone of the source material, but sometimes a bit of facilitation and access can be welcome and helpful. For some reason, the previously mentioned payoff scene, that comes right before the end, uses voiceover to describe the crimes of three notorious figures. It was difficult to understand, but all in all, did not detract from the overall experience of Dante: Inferno, which was chilling, unsettling, captivating, somber and enticing. Thank you, Mark-Brian Sonna, and thank you, Connie Trump.
Special kudos to the cast, who showed great versatility, stamina, agility, and perseverance in this physically demanding piece : Heath Billups, Megan Duelm, Brian Eschete, Shawn Gann, J.Kyle Harris, Bronze C. Hill, Emily Rahm, Ivan Jones and Mark-Brian Sonna.
MBS Productions presents Dante : Inferno playing (extended run) October 17th through November 9th, 2013 at The Stone Cottage Theatre: 15650 Addison Road, Addison, Texas, 75001. 214-477-4942. www.MBSProductions.net