Playwright Adam Harrell has found a way to combine classical literature, rock and rap music, personal reminiscences and ER in one short evening at the theater.
Inspired by The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri (who is too long dead to come back and sue), Harrell explains in the program that he found The Divine Comedy "hilarious," and decided to rework and personalize it, making his hero, Dante, "a shallow, unfeeling jerk."
Now, not everyone reacts with laughter to the original Dante's journey through Hell, Purgatory and Paradise, but creative souls must be allowed freedom of expression, right?
Dante, in the Boise State University Theatre Arts production, is energetically played by Luke Massengill, a long-haired Al Pacino type, who takes the sometimes inconsistent character and makes him a jerk we actually care about. Dante is plagued by family and alcohol problems, which lead him to be abusive to his girlfriends. When he is knocked into a coma by a mysterious passing car, his spirit is forced on a journey through his own personal hell, where he meets all his ex-girlfriends and re-lives his nasty treatment of them.
He is led on this surreal trip by his old high school gym teacher, Mr. Virgil, who is about 12 feet tall, thanks to hidden stilts. Josh Belville is sadistically great as Virgil, blowing his shrill whistle, striding smoothly about the stage and sneering at Dante's foibles. It is not unfair to say he is head and shoulders above the rest of the cast. (I couldn't resist.)
During Dante's unconscious spell, he is fussed over by his latest, meanly treated lady friend, who should have already dumped him. But her sweetness, maybe based on the ideal Beatrice in the original literary work, overcomes his behavior, and she worries and frets for him in the emergency room, where his body lies comatose, hooked up to machines and surrounded by doctors. The girlfriend's name is Megan, a bit more modern than Beatrice, and she is played with feisty charm by Liberty Sarah Leeds, a regular performer at Stage Coach Theatre. Leeds manages to tug at our heartstrings with her devotion and fresh, wholesome aura. She's about the only thing that is wholesome in this show, although Ann Klautsch shines in a cameo role as Dante's dead mother.
Dante is dragged about by a chorus of rowdy demons--hooded figures who sing to him, punch him, kiss him, move furniture and change sex. They even take the form of cheerleaders in ragged clothes, frantically dancing with their pompoms, and they indulge in lots of adolescent humor and language.
Director Micheal Baltzell keeps the action bouncing along, except for some rather slow, talky, introspective moments, and the scenic designer, Joseph Lavigne, has created remarkable settings, involving dragons and a giant grotesque mask with people peering out the eyes and mouth. He has placed the musicians, Seth Asa Sengel, Leeland Johnson and Devin Alexander Borges on a platform above the action on the stage, which works well for meshing the music, drama and comedy together.
The show is presented in Morrison Center's Stage II, which is a great little black box type of theater and a perfect venue for this black-toned musical.
In the original Dante's Hell, the gateway said, "All hope abandon, ye who enter here." In Harrell's Hell, ye can hope for lots of laughs and a very lively and unusual evening.
Dante by Adam Harrell; arrangements and additional music by Seth Asa Sengel, directed by Micheal Baltzell
Morrison Center Stage II, Boise State campus
7:30 p.m. Nov. 17-20; 2 p.m. Nov. 21
$9-$10; reservations at 426-1494