Director of Theatre creates epic adaptation

By Murphy Obershaw, Copy Editor

Director of Theatre Mark Mannette’s stage adaptation of “Inferno,” part of Dante Alighieri’s epic poem “The Divine Comedy,” will hit the stage in March.

Mannette said he got the idea to write a stage adaptation of “Inferno” while teaching an interdisciplinary class at a college in North Carolina.  He had his students act out parts of “Inferno” during the class.

“When I did that, I’m like, ‘Wow.  This plays really well on its feet.’  That’s what gave me the idea to do the whole thing,” he said.

Mannette said he has been working on this adaptation in his free time over the past 10 years.

He said he started by adapting Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s translation into a play.  He wrote his translation in iambic pentameter and turned the descriptions into lines of dialogue for Dante and Virgil.

This part of the process took about three years, and around half of it was done while Mannette lived in Italy in fall 2010.  While in Italy, Mannette visited some of the places Dante describes and some other places Dante might have visited himself.

Over the next seven years, Mannette consulted different translations, even the original Italian, to create his own translation.

“It is my own version.  So I would take these five things [translations] and then I would create my own version based on trying to keep the meter, trying to tell a clear story, keeping alliterations that I liked or creating alliterations that I liked or other forms of rhetoric that I wanted to include in it so that it would be kind of exciting for the actors and the audience,” he said.

Mannette not only wrote the stage adaptation the actors will perform, but he also designed the set for the play.  The set will be a mountain-like structure with multiple levels, some tunnels, and an open area for the rivers and pools Dante and Virgil come across.

The stage is being built by the new technical director, Bryan Hitchcock, and students.

A dance choreographer has also been brought in to help choreograph the different movements the ensemble members will have to do in the play.

Dante will be played by Matthew Clark and Virgil will be played by Lucas Farney.  Most everyone else in the cast plays multiple characters and extras.

Clayton Norris plays six characters with lines and also appears as an extra in several scenes.

“It’s a different experience because most of the time when you do one of these shows, you spend a lot of your time really like honing in on that single character...put most of your effort and focus into that, and this way, it’s a little bit different...I think it’s fun just because it isn’t something we usually get to do,” Norris said.

Norris said he is looking forward to this production.

“I think it’s really exciting to do because, as far as I know, it’s not a project that’s ever been done before...There have probably been movies or things like that but never as a live performance,” he said.

Mannette said he is thrilled that his play will be going on in conjunction with Newman’s Annual Literature Festival.

“I was encouraged to do the production coming from my colleagues in the English department, so that’s going to make it a really full, fun time when we do the show.  I think as many people from the community should come see it as possible,” Mannette said.

Performances for “Inferno” will be March 5-8, and Lit Fest will be March 5-6 in the Jabara Flexible Theatre.

PHOTO: Courtesy Photo, Daniel Knolla