Thursday, August 12, 2010

Fringe Review: Inferno

by Robert Subiaga

Well, I suppose it had to happen. I finally saw a Fringe show that, in its current form, I can’t recommend.

And I blame Lino Lakes.

You know, the town who passed their little “English only” language ordinance. You see, language seems a hot-button subject with some people and they give in to fears and insecurities about the other, especially when communication is occurring that they don’t fully understand.

But the truth is, that when we don’t give in to our fears a little mystery not only is fun, but we tend to seek it out. All we need is a little hint, a clue, a hook on which to hang our own speculations. Think about the first time you saw Shakespeare performed after trying to decipher the “English” reading it in class; all you needed was a summary of what’s going on in each scene and you enjoyed figuring out the rest while the actors emoted and action unfolded.

I wanted to like Carlo Gicala’s Inferno in its current form. Not that I knew what to expect. Was it a quirky take on Dante or literal reading? It is the latter, bit I’m a sucker for great literature and a daring try at that could work. The problem is that Inferno just isn’t daring enough--precisely because Gicala tries to be too accommodating.

Gicala gives a very dramatic reading of the first few cantos of Inferno, at each point from a single spot on stage while on the large screen a video rolls. The backdrop is visually arresting - the work of Gicala’s collaborator, the gifted videographer Renata Sheppard - but the graphic hardly changes. This is to facilitate subtitles in English of the entire text being read, just so those who cannot understand Italian can follow along.

This is information overload. The summary leading into each canto is sufficient; I found I could make the production tolerable by not reading the English, instead just shutting my eyes and basking in the almost incantation-like mystery and beauty of the Italian. It reminds me of how another Italian, the brilliant writer Umberto Eco, willingly challenged his readers in bestselling novels like in The Name of the Rose, a medieval detective story laced with untranslated Latin. Readers might pause to look things up, but were even more likely to save it and just speculate on the exact meaning, based on whatever background knowledge we had and the context. It is a mystery, after all.

So all I can do is hope Gicala doesn’t shelve Inferno but refines it to be more aggressive and less accommodating. That he just broadcasts the canto summaries and maybe an occasional literal passage, instead letting Sheppard have free rein to use images. And that he allows himself to walk or pace or even stalk the stage as he sees fit; I sensed the passion in his voice was only the surface of the energy of his whole body if he cut loose.

In short, I wish Carlo Gicala had given himself permission to scare us a little.

This is a trip into Hell, after all.

Oh, over in Lino Lakes they still probably would have hated it. But for them facilis descensus Averno.

Inferno hits the stage once more before the end of the Fringe Festival on Saturday, August 14th at 2:3opm at Intermedia Arts. Click HERE for more info and tickets

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