Dante’s Inferno – the modern day re-telling of the story by Craft Theatre had a private viewing last night. It was a brave tribute by the ensemble: Helen Foster, Maria Swisher, Thomas Thoroe, Lucas John Mahoney and Ryan Prescott to Kan Bonfils, who fell during rehearsal last Monday evening, struggling for breath. The Artistic Director, Rocky Rodruigez, Jnr applied CPR before the paramedics arrived but it was impossible to resuscitate Kan.
Faced with the void of no longer pursuing the work on Dante’s Inferno or continuing with the work that Kan had been so committed to, the group felt that they should continue. They had already been working together as a group for 5 months. The Grotowski based ethos is to find a story structure and then to improvise within that structure. Every time the play is run the depth of the actors connection to their roles and to each other deepens. Grotowski believed that this allowed an actor to discover more about himself and the piece. Grotowski called this “an inner ripening”.
Dante’s Inferno is told in a way that reverberates with the present day, when Dante is swayed by the desire to “succeed” in a worldly way rather than be content with what he has in “being human”. After 20 minutes the work comes alive when Dante’s fearful demons assault his senses and he’s plunged into the miasma of his mental pain. Craft Theatre’s skill in physical theatre unfolds. Bodies squirm together and separate, creating different shapes and scenes with different physical actions, sensuous or vile or nerve wracking. The action is swift and the structure clean. The Grotowski “training for an actor in preparation” may still be happening with Dante’s Inferno, rather than a performance ready for an audience. This seems probable because Ryan Prescott has stepped in replacing Kan Bonfils at five days notice.
The voices were in some cases not good. As we (the audience) entered the space at the beginning, the actors were doing a pre-performance group “knockabout”. The movements and the voices were mostly sharp, constricted, forced and self-indulgent, alienating rather than alerting the audience to the beginning of a performance. This may have been the reason for the main character’s voice being “shot” before he spoke his first line. The vocal constriction was sometimes reflected physically, with heads jutting forwards or being pulled back. Grotowski nurtured his actors voices, believing the wider their vocal power and range, the larger the possibility of summoning whatever was needed vocally. No “pushing” or “forcing” but by naturally opening up. There are some strong vocal moments, especially from Ryan Prescott and the singer/performer Thomas Thoroe. Craft Theatre ensemble can now allow themselves to ease into future performances under the expert guidance of Rocky Rodruigez, Jnr.
I am grateful to the company for the performance of Dante’s Inferno. It has a wonderful after effect – much more than a play, more like a spiritual experience. The theatre has its origins in uniting audiences in the spirit of the collective unconscious.