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Unconventional 'Inferno' Show Ignites 2003-2004 Performing Arts Series


August 21, 2003

[ Squonk Opera 'Inferno' Photo ] DELAWARE, OHIO -- The fire has been burning in Centralia since 1964, but on Sept. 13 at 8 p.m., Inferno will light up the Chappelear Drama Center stage as the first event of Ohio Wesleyan's 2003-2004 Performing Arts Series.

Inferno is Squonk Opera's interpretation of Dante's Inferno, part of the Divine Comedy, and takes the audience to Centralia, Pennsylvania, a virtual ghost town courtesy of a mining fire that has burned underground for almost 40 years. Dan Alegurski makes a journey "home" to Centralia that leads through the nine circles of hell, culminating in the ninth circle -- Alegurski's boyhood home. For Alegurski the trip to his home becomes hell, but for the audience the ride is a surreal and fragmented ride into the bowels of Inferno.

The story is told through simultaneous video, moving screen projections, puppets, and actors. Each circle has subtitles, like "truth with a face of lies," and correspond with Centralia locations like Ziggy's BBQ or the Town Hall. A Pennsylvania river becomes the River Styx and Centralia dogs are simultaneously the hellhound, Cerebus. Weaving in and out of Alegurski's journey are Pale Mary (Jackie Dempsey), while Centralia politician Bob Bigggi (Steve O'Hearn) and real estate agent Wilbert Milenka (Kevin Kornicki) make more abrupt entrances into the journey and oppose each other on the town's ultimate fate.

Dempsey and O'Hearn are co-founders of Squonk Opera and led Inferno to a brief Broadway run at the Helen Hayes Theatre in 2000. But it has been off-Broadway that the production has prospered and grown with its unique treatment of avant garde. Dempsey describes their mission as "experimental but accessible." The avant garde can be seen in the show's music, most of which is nonsense words, like "A du fai a say/A yai o k." Dempsey defends their syllabic expression as, the idea behind the lyrics "was to get a thought across without actually explaining it in a language [the audience] understands." Pitt News writer Heather Bowlan says, "maybe the best strategy is to look at Inferno as a world with its own language, made up of music and movement -- physical expression of abstract concepts."

Inferno's performance is partially supported by a grant from Pennsylvania Performing Arts on Tour, a program developed and funded by the Vira I. Heinz Endowment; the William Penn Foundation; the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, a state agency; and the Pew Charitable Trusts; and administered by Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation.

Tickets for this show, and all Performing Arts Series productions, are $15 for general admission and $5 for Ohio Wesleyan students and can be purchased in advance by calling 740-368-3629.

The remaining Performing Arts Series events for 2003-2004 include the Czech Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra on Oct. 7; Al Staggs in A View From the Underside: The Legacy of Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Nov. 8; Bill Evans in Reminiscences of a Dancing Man on Jan. 17; and The Tom Christensen Ensemble on March 23. Information on these events can be found at the PAS Web site or by calling 740-368-3629.