Abandon all hope, ye who enter here
~ Sign Dante see as he enters hell
There’s a Dante in everyone…You don’t have to be a 13th century poet to go through hell
~ Playwright Raul Herrera
One of the toughest things to do in theater, I believe, is taking a classic, in this case a 14th century timeless poem, and make it relevant in the 21st century. The audience must connect with the story and feel a sense of satisfaction that they genuinely understood and realize how and if it affects their everyday life. This fresh and exciting revision satisfies those requirements. Told from a hip-hop viewpoint, Dante is as prevalent now as it was when author Dante Alighieri completely the work in 1320. It took him twelve years to finish it. This introspective piece delves deep into the psyche as Virgil and Dante (excellent performances by Walter Finnie and Kyland Turner, respectively) travel throughout hell. They go to every inch of the forbidden zone and somehow survive.
In the beginning, hell is a mess. Literally, messy. There’s a pile of dirty laundry smacked in the middle of the room, so you know Satan does not keep house. Virgil follows Dante’s lead through all nine circles of hell. First level is Limbo where Virgil meets Shakespeare and Homer. These wretched souls are doomed for not being baptized and not believing in GOD. Nothing too serious or their own fault. Things go terribly south beyond the first level. Circle number 2 is lust. Who doesn’t have a sexy story to tell?
Living in this decadent realm are Cleopatra, Helen of Troy, Paris and other poor fools who got caught in their individual sexual escapades. The main focus in this area are Francesca and her lover/former brother-in-law Paolo. Paolo is the younger brother of Francesca’s deformed looking husband Giovanni. Their marriage was a political one. Francesca’s father believed that an alliance between his daughter and Giovanni would create and maintain peace. What he had not counted on was his daughter carrying on an almost ten-year affair with Paolo. Giovanni discovered them in bed one night and killed them both. Now the two spirits are in the second circle being carried away by the wind always missing each other. Love is a lonely bitch!! In playwright Raul Herrera’s version, Francesca is a groupie. Someone pointed out that, “love is something you feel and lust is something you do.”
Moving along to the third circles (gluttony), fourth (greed) and fifth (wrath). Reaching the sixth floor is where heresy lives. In fact, there are two politicos who according to Dante filibustered each other to death. Such a sad and pathetic way to die. Throughout the journey, Dante desperately misses his true love Beatrice (the talented Alexis Martinez). She is seen briefly in the beginning. Standing tall and beautiful with wings made possible by extraordinary lighting. Eventually, she leads the dynamic duo from Purgatory to Heaven. Paolo aches for her deeply but, must continue his journey with Virgil at his side. The remaining circles, the seventh is violence, the eight is fraud and the final one number nine is treachery, which must be the most painful of all the circles. Here, sinners are punished for doing wrong against the people they cared and loved deeply. These dead souls chew on their “loved ones” brain from the back of the head. Jesus’ betrayer Judas Iscariot lives here. These people are tied by ice. They get no warmth or light from the sun and obviously no water to sip on. The tragedy in the treachery is a painful one.
Under the direction of Cynthia Ettinger, she executes Herrera’s vision wonderfully. The hip-hop influence is felt from beginning to end. Everyone has something to say about something and it comes out so eloquently it’s mind-blowing. Wilkie Ferguson serves as a talented musical director to a 3-man band, who makes sure that every pulsating beat complements what the actor are expressing. A bit of a rhythmic map that follows the course throughout the story. Diane Luby Lane did an excellent job in adapting the epic poem into a modern spoken word performance. Hip-hop and love and hypotonic words make Dante a great show to watch and fully enjoy.
Dante: A Contemporary Adaption of Dante’s Inferno plays Friday, July 28th at 8 p.m. and ends this Saturday, July 29th at 8 p.m. at The Actors’ Gang Theater, located at 9070 Venice Blvd, in Culver City. For ticket information, please call 310-838-4264 or visit www.theactorsgang.com.