Stock-still but running: The Fine Arts Department’s Purgatorio

Ariel Dorfman’s Purgatorio gave me a bit of a headache; it was so well-written and well-performed that I found it hard to wrap my head around the entire piece. Coupled with Kiara Pipino’s meticulous direction and Missy Maramara and Ian Ignacio’s passionate acting, Purgatorio was the philosophical masterpiece it set itself out to be.

Purgatorio walks us through the never-ending cycle of purgatory through Man (Ignacio) and Woman’s (Maramara) ceaseless search for healing and freedom. Throughout the play, both characters are locked in a small room with only a bed, table, and a set of chairs.

Brian de Asis’ set design was simple but effective. He was able to work with the constraints of the theater while allowing the audience to see a clear transition between the scenes. Miyo Sta. Maria’s lighting design paired off with Pipino’s music design to set the mood and provide an opening for Dorfman’s ideas about purgatory to flourish on stage.

Pipino’s stage direction merits all praise; it was evident that she took her time in arranging and calculating every movement. These, along with the sound effects that transpired onstage, were executed beautifully. The minimalistic set design worked well to balance Maramara and Ignacio’s powerful acting, which brought the stage to life. It’s challenging to pull off a play with only two actors, moreso having to play an alter ego each, but Maramara and Ignacio succeeded brilliantly. They unraveled the story with continuous, teasing tension that captivated the audience every step of the way.

In Purgatorio, self-atonement isn’t enough to achieve deliverance. The context that Dorfman provides in this play alongside Maramara and Ignacio’s gracious acting allows the audience to empathize and realize that healing is more than moving on, it’s guiding the other person to breathe again.

Purgatorio doesn’t exist in linear time; it gives you the idea that ‘sequences’ could be happening simultaneously, further emphasizing the cyclical nature of purgatory. It’s illustrated well in the ending as Man and Woman embrace each other tightly and for the first time, allow themselves to be free, even for a moment.

The final scene is vulnerable, hanging, and allows the idea of “forever” sink in our minds. It allows us to fully immerse ourselves in the idea that when the lights go out and the play ends, the characters are still pulled back and forth in the endless cycle of purgatory.

In a grim, final conversation, Man and Woman draw the box they continue to live in; Woman says, “It’s going to take forever,” and Man replies, “I have nowhere else to go.”

Editors’ Note: The music design was previously misattributed. It has since been corrected to credit Kiara Pipino. Our sincerest apologies for this lapse.

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