Film and Play Related 2011

Purgatorio Press Kit

Source: Teatro Español

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© Teatro Español.
Teatro Español
Matadero Naves del Español
Stage 2

A Play
By: Ariel Dorfman
Directed by: Josep Maria Mestres
From November 4 to December 18

MAN Viggo Mortensen
WOMAN Carme Elias

Artistic Staff
Director Josep Maria Mestres
Set Designer Clara Notari
Lighting Ignasi Camprodon (aai)
Wardrobe Rosa García Andújar

A production of the TEATRO ESPAÑOL


A man and a woman in a room. Is it an insane asylum, a penitentiary, a reformatory? She wants to escape and he is there, he says, to help her. Gradually we realize that they both reside in the afterlife, where souls must do penance in order to rest or return to another human incarnation. And also, little by little, we discover that both the woman who must make amends for her past and the man who is her purported therapist have secrets, that they hide their true intentions from each other, from the audience and, often, from themselves. Until, very gradually, we become aware of their specific, mythical, and terrible identities; we realize we are in the presence of a great love story.

© Teatro Español.
Interview with Ariel Dorfman

Define Purgatorio.

Imagine the person who has hurt you most in this life; imagine that you have this person at your mercy; you can give them a pass to be reincarnated, redeem themselves or to forget about all that. But let´s imagine that this person is the one you have hurt most. Lock all that in a room and you have Purgatorio.

What was the interest that led you to write this play?

I have always asked myself: once you have the confession, once you have the culprit, once you have someone who has hurt you terribly, what do you do with that person?

In this regard, the question in Death and the Maiden was, fundamentally, whether the answer to that situation was revenge or justice. But, what if Hitler stood in front of you, or the person who arrested your son, who exiled you, or who killed your best friend? Someone who ruined your life. My answer was always that I would not seek to punish, but to bring that person face to face with their victim. I imagine almost an eternity of confrontation for that person to understand what they had done.

I´m not interested in the cycle continuing, because what matters is how we overcome that cycle of hatred and rivalry.

That concern came into focus when I was writing Purgatorio.

On the other hand, long ago I had come up with idea of a couple of characters in the afterlife confronting each another. I kept thinking about an afterlife in which two people interrogate each other, but the person being interrogated doesn't recognize the identity of the other. In addition, I asked myself about the later life of Medea; that character interested me a lot, the woman who kills her children with so much fury that she ends up burning herself into a myth in the memory of humanity.

When I began writing Purgatorio, I only had a man and a woman...I knew how they spoke, moved, looked at each other, their private rhythms, but suddenly I realized who they were and from there I could go on putting together fundamental questions: Is redemption possible? Does love survive tragedy...? What are the rules of the afterlife? How does time fold and unfold in a purgatorial setting?

I was also interested in the history of colonialism, of how warriors encounter a woman who ends up betraying her own people in order to open the country to foreigners. Almost invariably, the couple has children and almost inevitably, the man abandons her. This happens time and again in history. When the conquering warrior wants to settle down with his legitimate children, he marries an aristocrat of his own kind, and abandons the one who is not of his lineage. This gives the play a grounding in the history of our species. It makes us ask ourselves about encounters between different cultures, but always from an oblique perspective, not overtly political, without imposing a condemning or accusing point of view.

How long did it take you to write Purgatorio?

The process of writing the play, with its framework, the play of time and of identities, lasted two weeks. Then another five, six, seven years to work on polishing it. This is the text, out of all the ones I've written, where the characters hid themselves from me the most, slid around, got furious when they shouldn't have, played with me. It took me five or six days to realize who they were. It's been a very long process for it to be ready. And now it is, in my opinion, completed.

I wrote it in English first and then, almost immediately, I rewrote it in Spanish. It's a common process for someone who's bilingual like me (or Viggo). With Death and the Maiden or newspaper articles, it's the other way around: I work in Spanish first and then, as I transcribe into English, I keep amending the original text. Even [when I was] working in this same theatre at the beginning of 2009, in the Teatro Español's Parnasillo (with Viggo Mortensen, Josep Maria Mestres...) I made some very important changes that I'll incorporate into the English version.

Is the play a thriller?

It's a dramatic work, eminently theatrical, in which up until the end you don't know what's really happening. I like thrillers because I love playing with the audience, for there to be a kind of suspense, for them to participate with me in the anxiety of the search, for them to have to work as I did to understand what all this that we're seeing was about. And in this case, of course, there are crimes committed by one character and the other, and it's interesting to go along finding out what they were and whether there will be a punishment.

When I write a play I don't know how it's going to end, and just as I'm wanting to know, I hope that the audience shares that same desire.

This play reveals a slow process of unmasking, of pulling away, one by one, the veils that separate us from the truth. At the end, the two characters are going to be face to face. The whole text was set up so that process would be a challenge, so the audience would do the same with their own lives, would ask themselves questions similar to the ones that man and that woman ask themselves.

Is it possible that the cycle of violence and hatred could ever end?

I believe in theatre that provokes something inside of each spectator and the play raises the issue: if you don't want this to be eternal, ask yourselves what you have done in your life, and ask yourselves how do you face those you have hurt, those to whom you have done harm.

Are you capable of working with others to end that cycle? In that sense, the play is a provocation. It doesn't lie about the difficulties.

It´s true that as a child I thought a lot about death and eternity, about the idea of infinity. It caused me tremendous anxiety, but I have always believed that one way to put an end to my anxiety is to share it with others. I think that in this play there are moments in which an abyss opens; it has something of an existentialist and metaphysical dizziness, the idea that the thing goes on and on and on. When I´m able to translate that feeling into words, then I have hopes of not being alone. I´m part of, let´s say, a community. We are all together in confronting the idea of eternity. Everything is tolerable except utter loneliness.

© Teatro Español.
Ariel Dorfman. Author.

Ariel Dorfman was born in Buenos Aires and, after living 10 years of his childhood in the United States, grew up in Chile, where he participated in Salvador Allende's government as a cultural advisor before heading into exile after the 1973 coup. His books, written as often in English as in Spanish, have been translated into more than forty languages and his theatrical works performed in more than a hundred countries.

His play La Muerte y la Doncella [Death and the Maiden], which received the Lawrence Olivier Award and dozens of awards worldwide, was adapted for film by Roman Polanski, with Sigourney Weaver and Ben Kingsley. It was directed on Broadway by Mike Nichols, with Glenn Close (Tony Award), Gene Hackman and Richard Dreyfuss. This play is currently touring Spain with Emilio Gutiérrez Caba and Luisa Martín. His other theatrical works include Viudas [Widows] (co-written with Tony Kushner) and Lector [Reader], both of which received awards from the Kennedy Center, where Voces Contra el Poder [Speak Truth to Power] also premiered in 2000, with a cast including Kevin Kline, Sigourney Weaver, John Malcovich, Alec Baldwin, Rita Moreno, Hector Elizondo and Julia Louis Dreyfuss. This play has been staged worldwide, with performances by, among others, Sean Penn, Martin Sheen, Lynn Redgrave, Woody Harrelson, Loraine Bracco, Sharon Stone, Brad Whitford and Isabella Rosellini, in addition to having been directed by Mario Gas in Madrid and Barcelona. Dorfman's most recent theatrical works include Purgatorio (which is being performed for the first time in Spanish at the Naves del Español) and El Otro Lado [The Other Side], which was performed in New York in 2006 with Rosemary Harris, and which Charo López, José Luis Torrijos and Eusebio Lázaro (who also directs) are staging across Spain, following a successful month at Madrid's Teatro Fernán. El País has said about Ariel Dorfman as a man of theater, "Ariel Dorfman is one of the great contemporary dramatists. His theater, like his life as an exile and dissident, journeys through pain. But because of his intelligence, neither territory lacks humor or irony."

He has also been praised as a novelist. Called "a literary grandmaster" (Time), whose work explores the never-ending intersection of power and identity, Dorfman has been considered by the Washington Post to be "a world novelist of the first order" and by Newsweek as "one of the greatest Latin American novelists".

His best-known works are Viudas [Widows], Konfidenz, La Nana y el Iceberg [The Nanny and the Iceberg], Acércate más y más (short stories) and Terapia [Blake's Therapy], whose screenplay was just finished by Ariel and his oldest son, Rodrigo, with a contract with Salma Hayek. Another recent novel is Burning City, which he wrote with his younger son, Joaquín, and which is being produced [for film] by Richard Gladstein (Pulp Fiction). He has also written a children's story, La Rebelión de los Conejos Mágicos [The Rabbits' Rebellion]. His most recent novel, Americanos, Los Pasos de Murieta (2009), is an epic that tells the story of the two Americas, South and North, during 150 years of struggles and migrations. Among his nonfiction works, the essay Para Leer Al Pato Donald [How to Read Donald Duck] (with Armand Mattelart), already a classic; Patos, Elefantes y Héroes; Más allá del Miedo and Memorias del desierto [Desert Memories] (awarded best travel book published in the United States in 2004) stand out. His acclaimed autobiography Rumbo al Sur, Deseando el Norte [Heading South, Looking North] was the basis for the documentary El largo exilio de Ariel Dorfman [A Promise to the Dead: The Exile Journey of Ariel Dorfman], by Peter Raymont (Emmy Award), which was on the shortlist for the 2008 Oscars. Dorfman contributes to the most important newspapers and magazines of the world (The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian, Le Monde, Frankfurter Allgemeine, etc.), and to El País on a regular basis for decades. These articles have been gathered together in the book Otros Septiembres [Other Septembers]. In addition, he is the author of the libretto of a musical, DANCING SHADOWS (with music by the recently deceased Eric Woolfson, of the Alan Parsons Project), a work which opened in Seoul a couple of years ago, and which won five "Korean Tony Awards". He has also made forays into film, writing, with his son Rodrigo, Prisoners in Time (starring John Hurt) for the BBC, awarded best British television screenplay of 1995; and Deadline, a fictional film assembled from Dorfman's poems, with the voices of Bono, Harold Pinter, [and] Emma Thompson, among others. An active defender of human rights and distinguished professor at Duke University, he has lived in the United States with his wife, Angélica, since 1980, while maintaining a house in Santiago, Chile.

His website is

Josep Maria Mestres. Director

With degrees in educational sciences from the University of Barcelona and in acting from the Institut del Teatre de la Diputació de Barcelona, Josep Maria Mestres is a prolific stage director, in addition to having worked as an actor and having taught courses in acting and stage direction in various schools and centers in Spain.

A member of the Zitzània Teatre company (1990-98, founding member of the Kràmpack company (1994-97) and founding director of the Aula de Teatro of the Universitat Pompeu Fabra (1995-99), Josep Maria Mestres has directed, since the mid-eighties, around half a hundred plays, from classics to modern texts and zarzuelas [tr. note: traditional Spanish operettas], in prominent theaters including TNC [Teatre Nacional de Catalunya], Teatre Lliure and Teatro de la Zarzuela.

His recent work includes Ivan Turgenev's Un mes al camp [A Month in the Country] (TNC, 2011); Duda razonable by Borja Ortiz de Gondra (Vaivén Teatro. Teatro Victoria Eugenia de San Sebastián); Almuerzo en casa de los Wittgenstein (Ritter, Dene, Voss) by Thomas Bernhard (Teatre Romea, Festival Grec) and William Shakespeare's Nit de Reis [Twelfth Night] (TNC), all in 2010.

In 2009, he directed Oscar Wilde's Un marit ideal [An Ideal Husband], Teatre Goya; Algo más inesperado que la muerte by Elvira Lindo and Borja Ortiz de Gondra; La casa dels cors trencats [Heartbreak House] by Bernard Shaw (TNC); and La infanticida/Germana Pau by Víctor Català (Teatre Romea).

Other productions he has directed include: Cancún by Jordi Galceran (Teatre Borràs, 2008; Converses amb la mama de Jordi Galceran, from the screenplay by Santiago Carlos Oves (Teatre Capitol, 2008; Silencio... vivimos by Adolfo Marsillach / Paco Mir. (Teatro Fígaro - Adolfo Marsillach, 2008; El maletín o La importancia de ser alguien [Handbag, or The Importance of Being Somebody] by Mark Ravenhill (Festival Grec; TNC; Festival de Otoño de Madrid, 2007); El ventall de Lady Windermere [Lady Windermere's Fan] by Oscar Wilde (TNC, 2007), for which he was awarded the Premio ADE for Direction; El barbero de Sevilla-Bohemios by Nieto and Giménez (Teatro de la Zarzuela, 2007); Baraka by Maria Goos (Teatro de La Latina, 2006); Il piu bel nome by Antonio Caldara (Teatro Metropol. Festival d'Òpera de Butxaca, 2006); Paradís by Jordi Galzerán and Esteve Miralles (Temporada Alta. Teatre Condal, 2005); and Las variaciones Goldberg [The Goldberg Variations] by George Tabori (Teatres de la Generalitat Valenciana. Teatre Rialto, en 2005). This show was awarded the Best Direction award at the Premios de las Artes Escénicas de la Generalitat Valenciana and the Best Show award from the Crítica de Teatro de Valencia.

In 2005 he also directed David Mamet's Un matrimoni [Boston Marriage] (Teatre Lliure) and La Xarxa by Joan Brossa.

In 2004, he directed El otro lado de la cama, Roberto Santiago's theatrical adaptation of David Serrano's screenplay (Teatro Amaya); Terrasanta (by Bruno Dozza and Antonio Monroy) and Manuel de Falla's El retablo de Maese Pedro, at the Festival Internacional de Piano Ciudad de Lucena.

His other productions include El Tinent D'Inishmore [The Lieutenant of Inishmore] by Martin McDonagh (TNC); William Shakespeare's Romeo i Julieta [Romeo and Juliet]; Pallassos. Forum 2mil I Pico by Oriol Boixadér; No es tan fácil by Paco Mir; Sueños & Folias. Raíces y Memoria de la Hespeia Perdida, with musical direction by Jordi Savall, for the Teatro Liceo; La Filla del Mar by Àngel Guimerà; 23 centímetros by Carles Alberola and Roberto García; Unes Polaroids Explícites [Some Explicit Polaroids] by Mark Ravenhill; Tot Lloll by Lloll Bertran, Guillem-Jordi Graells and Josep Maria Mestres; La Bella Helena [La belle Hélène], by Offenbach, Meilhac and Halévy.

In the eighties and nineties, he directed Fashion, Feeling, Music by Lluís Hansen, Josep Maria Mestres and Carles Puértolas; Cantonada Brossa by Joan Brossa (co-directed with Rosa Maria Sardà, Lluís Pasqual and Josep Montanyès); Salvats by Edward Bond; Hola Brecht; Fum, Fum, Fum by Jordi Sànchez; Klowns by Joan Montanyès and Josep Maria Mestres, which received the Premio Especial de la Crítica de Barcelona; Dakota by Jordi Galzeran; A l'est de Qualsevol Lloc by Edward Thomas; Kámpack by Jordi Sànchez, which was awarded the Premio Especial de la Crítica de Barcelona; Enemic de classe by Nigel Williams; Yvonne, Princesa de Borgonya by Witold Gombrowicz, also awarded the Premio Especial de la Crítica de Barcelona; La Lloll, un xou ben Viu, which won the Premi FAD; La infanticida by Víctor Català; Feminista by Santiago Rusiñol; Negroni de Ginebra by Maria Antònia Oliver; Gran imprecació davant la muralla de la ciutat by Tankred Dorst, which won the Premio Especial de la Crítica Serra d'Or; and Fantasio by Alfred de Musset (Premio Adrià Gual 1985).

Viggo Mortensen

Born in New York, of an American mother and Danish father. The family moved early on to Argentina for work reasons and Viggo grew up there until he was eleven. He studied theatre in the Warren Robertson Theatre Workshop in New York, the city where he began his career as an actor in 1982. In 1987, he was awarded the Dramalogue Critics' Award for his acting in Martin Sherman's production of Bent in Los Angeles.

His film career began with bit parts in films like Witness (1985), Fresh Horses (1988, The Reflecting Skin (1990), The Indian Runner (1991), Carlito´s Way (1993), and continues with roles in Crimson Tide (1995), Portrait of a Lady (1996), G.I. Jane (1997), A Perfect Murder (1998 and A Walk on the Moon (1999), among other productions. From 2001 on, with the premiere of the first part of the more-than-successful The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Mortensen began to play successively more challenging characters. His work was outstanding in Agustín Díaz Yanes' Alatriste (2006) and the three films he's made with David Cronenberg--A History of Violence (2005), Eastern Promises (2007), and A Dangerous Method (2011). In Spain, apart from Alatriste, he has worked in Gimlet (1995) and La pistola de mi hermano (1997). He has been a candidate for the Premio Goya for Alatriste, and for the Oscar, Golden Globe and BAFTA for Eastern Promises. In 2012, he will be seen in Walter Salles' On the Road.

In addition to being an actor, Mortensen is a photographer and painter and has exhibited his work in galleries and museums in New York, Washington, Los Angeles, Cuba, New Zealand, Iceland, and Denmark. He is the founder and editor of the publishing house Perceval Press, based in California. Various collections of his poetry have been published, the most recent being Canciones de invierno (2010). His most recent piano albums are Time Waits for Everyone (2007), and Reunion (2011) with the guitarist Buckethead.

Carme Elias

With some twenty movies and as many theatrical productions, Carme Elías is an actress with enormous talent and a solid career who has worked with the great directors, from Miguel Narros and Josep María Flotats to Pere Portabella in theatre, and with Pedro Almodóvar and Javier Fesser in film. With Fesser, she starred in Camino, a film for which she won the Premio Goya for Best Leading Actress, among other awards.

Among her theatrical productions, the following stand out: Prometeo, directed by Carme Portaceli; La casa de los corazones rotos, directed by Josep Maria Mestres (with whom she repeats now in Purgatorio); El Ventall de Lady Windermere [Lady Windermere's Fan], for which she was awarded the Premio Butaca for Best Actress in theatre; Edipo Rey [Oedipus Rex], under Jorge Lavelli; El rey Lear [King Lear], with Gerardo Vera; 84 Charing Cross Road, with Isabel Coixet; La Gaviota with Amelia Ochandiano, for which she received the Villa de Madrid award for Best Actress (Theatre); and Els gegants de la montanya, directed by Georges Lavaudant. Other productions in which she has participated include La doble inconstancia and Casi una diosa, directed by Miguel Narros; El Misántropo [The Misanthrope] and Lorenzaccio, under Josep Maria Flotats; Absalón, with José Luis Gómez; Madame de Sade, by Joaquín Vida, Acreedores de Strindberg by Juan Carlos Corazza and La gata sobre el tejado de zinc [Cat on a Hot Tin Roof], directed by Carlos Gandolfo.

In addition to the Premio Goya for Best Actress, Carme Elias has received other prestigious awards for her work in Camino: Best Leading Actress from the Unión de Actores; Sant Jordi Award from RNE; Premio Butaca for Best Leading Catalán Actress in Film; Premio Turia for Best Actress and Best actress award in the Semana del Cine y de la Imagen in Fuentes de Ebro (SCFE).

On the big screen, we have also been able to see Carme Elías in Planes para mañana, by Juana Macías; ¿Estás ahí?, by Roberto Santiago; Los aires difíciles, by Gerardo Herrero; Cien maneras de acabar con el amor, by Vicente Pérez Herrero; No se lo digas a nadie, by Francisco Lombardi; Pesadilla para un rico, by Fernando Fernán Gómez; El hombre de arena, by Vicente Pérez Herrero; La flor de mi secreto by Pedro Almodóvar; Los peores años de nuestra vida, by Emilio Martínez Lázaro, and Stico by Jaime de Armiñán.

Carme Elías has participated in more then twenty television series, and on two occasions was a candidate for the Fotograma de Plata for Best Television Actress for Antonio Mercero's Turno de Oficio (both editions). Her work also includes Bandolera, Gavilanes, Herederos, Hasta luego cocodrilo by Alfonso Ungría and the legendary series Las aventuras de Pepe Carvalho and Anillos de oro.
Last edited: 1 January 2012 13:41:57
© Teatro Español.