Rushing into The Anglican Church of The Epiphany and St. Mark at the very last minute, I wasn’t able to read the program notes for Purgatory in Ingleton ahead of time. If I had, I would not have felt so lost during the performance. Or rather, I would have understood that my feeling lost was somewhat the point of this SummerWorks play.
“The [play’s] theatrical poetry lies in the fact that the characters all have something monstrous about them, that they are constructs. They musn’t appear too naturalistic. To show the obscurity, the ultimate incomprehensibility of humans, is essential.” Marieluise Fleißer (the playwright).
Had I known Fleißer’s association with Brecht, I may have been better prepared for the alienating language of the text. Although, in hindsight, perhaps it would not have been so effective.
The plot concerns a group of youth in a small town religious community. Olga and Roelle try to free themselves of their oppressive religious society, but find themselves unable to escape because they simply have not been taught to communicate their feelings or negotiate the complexities of life.
The plot is somewhat hard to follow because the language is confounding. You get the sense that these young people don’t know how to talk about their fears, yearnings, shame, guilt and confusion without resorting to bombastic religious jargon. It is all they’ve been taught and it is not sufficient to express their inner lives.
When overcome by emotion, they are forced to use the only tools they’ve been given by their religious upbringing. In this warped world they inhabit, everything is understood as good or evil, divine or shameful; there is no room for doubt.
While it was hard to follow the actual plot, the show was still strangely captivating. I could see the torment in their faces as these poor youth screeched and clawed at each other in their struggle to be understood.
The production is staged in the basement of St. Marks, which is not a traditional theatre. The stagecraft, while somewhat unconventional, makes clever use of the space. There are many sightline obstructions, but director Birgit Schreyer Duarte (who also penned the translation) takes these into account.
We are often trying to see around poles, through doorways, and behind our backs. It’s not always comfortable viewing, but it is always stimulating. This stimulation is due, in large part, to the voyeuristic satisfaction of seeing something we think should be hidden from us.
All nine cast members are excellent, but I would like to call out the following standout performances: Miranda Calderon as the pregnant and shamed Olga, who perfectly captures how desperation can twist love and hate together so that neither can easily be defined. Jordan Mechano, who is both frightening and pitiful as Roelle, a boy trying desperately to be taken seriously as a man, clinging to both delusions of divine grandeur and mortal ugliness. And finally, Helen Juvonen, as Olga’s sister Clementine, a young woman who can be both comforting and cruel in her quest for attention.
This is an intriguing production. The language is often hard to follow, but you eventually realize that the discomfort you feel as the audience is only a vague shadow of the torment that warps these characters into monstrous shapes.
- Purgatory in Ingleton plays at The Epiphany and St Mark Church (201 Cowan Ave.)
- Show times: Thursday August 8, 9:00 pm; Friday August 9, 9:00 pm; Saturday August 10, 9:00 pm; Sunday August 11, 9:00 pm; Wednesday August 14, 9:00 pm; Thursday August 15, 9:00 pm; Friday August 16, 9:00 pm; Saturday August 17, 9:00 pm; Sunday August 18, 9:00 pm.
- All individual SummerWorks tickets are $15 at the door (cash only). Tickets are available online at http://summerworks.ca, By phone by calling the Lower Ossington Box Office at 416-915-6747, in person at the SummerWorks Info Booth (located at 100A Ossington Avenue, first floor) Aug. 6-18 10AM-7PM (Advance tickets are $15 + service fee)
- Several money-saving passes are available if you plan to see at least 3 shows.
Image courtesy of Nicola Samori.