What Sounds Do They Have In Purgatory?

David Cecsarini Talks About PURGATORIO

Jan. 27, 2010
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Next Act Theatre’s Producing Artistic Director David Cecsarini has put together some really great shows at the Off Broadway Theatre. This week he opens a show that he stars in, wrote, directed and designed both the set AND the sound for. Cescarini took some time out of his work on purgatory to answer a few questions about the production.

Me: What does the production design of the show feel like? You're designing the set and the sound. Dorfman's description of the set is very spare, but it DOES leave some room for interpretation. What direction did you decide to take it in?

David Cecsarini: It's pretty spare, to coincide with Dorfman's description.  I've placed a 24" high 4x8 platform run across the proscenium opening, which confines us to the downstage space only.  There is a prominent, centered doorway with metal door on the 24" level.  It's the only way in and out of the room.  From the room, a ramp takes one up to the door.  Once through the door, heading off and upstage, one can walk almost to the back wall of the theatre.  This is not acting area, of course...just an entrance pathway. 

The upstage exit platforming is flanked by two black scrim panels, set on angle.  The downstage ends start at the proscenium pillars and the upstage ends get to about four feet apart.  Jason may bounce some nice silhouettes off these panels.  And I think he'll shape the space in his own inimitable way.  Colors: basically shades of grey.

We've followed Dorfman's suggestion on furniture: a simple table, two chairs, a cot, and a washstand (Mary's addition).

As you point out, the play is simply a conversation between two people in a room.  And the way the play is written, the characters are non-too-comfortable in their surroundings.  Who would be, after all?

Sound-wise, it'll be spare as well.  I mean, what sounds do they have in Purgatory?  Footsteps, echoing door slams, maybe an underpinning of a drone or mixed tones for the ins, outs and transitions -- perhaps we might hear an anguished, distant cry or two.  I think leaning toward the subtle side in this department will be a wise choice.


Me: You've worked with Angela Iannone and Mary MacDonald Kerr a number of times before. I would imagine the creative dialogue between the three of you is really interesting.

David Cecsarini: Well, those two ladies are smart and thorough, which certainly makes rehearsals interesting, to us anyway.  Essentially, we're after meaning first.  Identifying it, clarifying it, finding the through-line of the thoughts, the strategy behind those thoughts, and their relative importance.  Mary has an unrelenting ear for meaning, logic and clarity, which is absolutely necessary if we're going to tell a clear story driven almost entirely by words.

Dorfman's play is really an extended series of interviews with two people working through their most feared and secret demons, so to speak.  Each needs the other to drop all pretense, defenses and delusions, and finally, truthfully, come to grips with responsibility for their past actions, and forgiveness of the others' actions.  So, as actors, we are meticulously working our way along Dorfman's roadmap, or route, journey, something like that, on our way to the final moments.  Comprehending the meaning, realizing the reasoning behind our words, and finding the most effective expression of the thoughts is the business at hand.

Interestingly, one of our box office people remarked that there was a lot of laughing coming from the rehearsal room.  It was unexpected, given the write-up of the play.  And she is right.  Plays like these demand high concentration -- because of being a two-hander as well as because of the content -- and we need breaks from the intensity.  So we chat and have some fun too.  What a great job.


Me: What challenges are you running into in rehearsal?


David Cecsarini: I would say three things:

The author's syntax: Dorfman has been bi-lingual for most of his life, and sometimes, specific word or grammar usage is not as precise as might be necessary to convey the apparent spirit or thought behind the words.  We sometimes need to fight through his language to figure out what he's trying to say.

The extended argument:  To bring the audience along with us, we must be crystal clear on where the argument is going.  As any discussion will, the conversation veers off on tangents, sidebars and mini-stories.  We are working very hard on keeping the thread of the discussion taut, in spite of rhetorical distractions.

The emotional pacing: it's a 90-minute play, and you have to pick your battles when it comes to the level of emotion that's invested and depicted.  Not that actors can't "emote" for that long -- au contraire, left to our own devices, it would often be our default position -- but that becomes not very interesting in a big hurry.  We're depending a great deal on Mary to shape this part of our work."


Me: Like Renaissance's current production of BLACKBIRD, this is primarily a conversation between two people that runs its course in a confined mount of space in a confined period of time that plays out entirely without intermission. You go onstage. You're there for the entire length of the play. And then you're finished. How does that effect the dynamic between you, Iannone, the characters and the audience?


David Cecsarini: Basically, you embark on a journey, alone and together.  Without a break to compare notes, we will wend our way through the entire play in public, and in character.  In between our lines, thoughts, emotions and attention to stagecraft, we will have private, fleeting thoughts, as actors: how's it going? are they listening? did I get that moment the way we had it in rehearsal?  I imagine the experience will have a similar loneliness to FAITH HEALER, except that at least we have an acting partner out there to engage with.

'Managing' an audience, psychologically, can be a challenge for the actor.  Especially in a drama where the interaction is not as well-defined as in a comedy. What I mean is that's it's easy to assume that "they hate it" or "they're not getting it" or "they're not interested."    A blank stare may only look blank and we won't know what's behind the eyes until the talkback.  And then we're often quite surprised at how engaged they actually were, how much our show was affecting the audience.  Again, with an acting partner to engage with, one can mostly avoid this dangerous tendency to doubt.

Next Act’s Purgatorio runs January 28th through February 21st at the Off-Broadway Theatre.


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