INTERMISSION: Focus on [ad hoc theatre project]

by Walter Bender

Eric Wunsch and Meredith Sonnen starred in PURGATORIO. (Photo credit: Kate Raines)

I was invited to attend the production of PURGATORIO by Ariel Dorfman, presented by the [ad hoc theatre project]. This was a very interesting venture. Mark Kennedy, Director and guiding force behind [ad hoc] explains in the program that they are a theatre “anti-company” that was formed because an individual cannot lease rights to perform a play. They put together this production, and at its completion, the company “annihilates itself.”

PURGATORIO is the story of a Man and a Woman, based on the myth of Jason and Medea, who are locked in an unnamed institution and who must prove themselves worthy of moving on. Their verbal struggles are the basis of the story, with redemption as the ultimate goal.

PURGATORIO was staged on the 3rd floor of the Wolf Building on 12th and Callowhill in Philadelphia. Upon entering the building, you are met by Charon (actually a young woman whose name I did not get) who asks you to fill out a form headed “you are dead. welcome to purgatorio.” The various questions you fill out are standard, I suppose for a dead person (worst sin, worst wound, last thought, etc.) although the name and email address I suspect has a more insidious use in store than processing you to whichever level of hell you deserve. You then get in the elevator and go to the 3rd floor, which opens into a small hallway. A door at the end of the hallway opens, and you are escorted into a waiting area, which looks somewhat like the set of Nightmare on Elm Street with exposed pipes, a bit of steam, and the hiss of steam running through the system. The unfinished nature of the hall is a perfect setup for the show.

Once you are escorted into the space where the show is to take place, you are once again taken with the dreary nature…unfinished walls, exposed pipes, and bright glaring lighting. A woman (Meredith Sonnen) is alternately leaning against a chair or moving, showing frustration and bitterness. A projection of the woman playing 5-finger fillet (a disturbing game where you place your hand face down on a table and stab back and forth between your fingers) is in the background. As the show opens, we are introduced to the Man (Eric Wunsch) who in the first scene appears to be the woman’s therapist. As the show evolves, the parts of therapist and patient literally switch back and forth, with the actors swapping the coat and glasses of therapist back and forth between scenes. As the scenes progress, the action intensifies, each person trying to gain the upper hand on the other, not realizing until very late that their salvation comes in forgiving the other and in healing them, they heal themselves.

I was impressed with the production…the acting was first-rate, with Mr. Wunsch and Ms. Sonnen working extremely well together. Bob Wuss (Projection & Video Designer) did a great job taping and integrating the rear projections, adding to the feel of the show. The general malaise of the piece was enhanced by the space as well as Mr. Kennedy’s skillful direction. Meredith Boring designed the costumes, which were stark and functional.

The [ad hoc theatre project] may be gone, but they are not forgotten. I hope to see this very talented group together again someday. Congratulations to everyone involved for having a vision and seeing it through.

by Ariel Dorfman
Directed by Mark Kennedy
[ad hoc theatre project]
November 16-19, 2011
The Arts Locker
at the Wolf Building
3rd Floor
1200 Callowhill St
Philadelphia, PA 19103

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