A ticket to hell: Dante’s ‘Inferno’ inspires Fringe show

| July 15, 2015 | 0 Comments
From left, Marcus Lotti, Fiona Lotti, Erin Cargill and Sandy Hitchin talk things over during a rehearsal of “Tales From Café Inferno” July 10 at Bedlam Design Center in Minneapolis. Fiona Lotti and Hitchin co-wrote the show, with Lotti serving as director and producer. The group will perform during the annual Fringe Festival in Minneapolis July 30 through Aug. 9. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

From left, Marcus Lotti, Fiona Lotti, Erin Cargill and Sandy Hitchin talk things over during a rehearsal of “Tales From Café Inferno” July 10 at Bedlam Design Center in Minneapolis. Fiona Lotti and Hitchin co-wrote the show, with Lotti serving as director and producer. The group will perform during the annual Fringe Festival in Minneapolis July 30 through Aug. 9. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

A famous medieval poem is getting a contemporary twist at this year’s Minnesota Fringe Festival, Minneapolis’ annual smorgasbord of theater, performance art and storytelling. “Tales from Café Inferno” re-imagines the first — and best known — third of Dante Alighieri’s epic poem the “Divine Comedy.”  In Fringe’s version, Hell isn’t a series of nine descending circles of suffering; it’s a coffee shop.

“Honestly, I have no idea where it came from,” said Fiona Lotti, a theater student at the University of Minnesota who is directing and producing the show. “I woke up one morning, and I knew that in today’s hell, there would be an independent coffee shop. It’s such a visible part of our culture, and it’s where technology, conversation and materialist values all collide.”

The Catholic Spirit asked Lotti, 20, about the 55-minute performance and what she hopes its audience takes away from it. She said viewers need not be familiar with Dante to enjoy the show, but there are hidden gems for those who are. Answers were edited for length.

Q. For the uninitiated, what is the Fringe Festival?

A. The Fringe Festival is 10 days of glorious theater madness. Last year there were 169 shows in 17 different venues, each with five performances. Do the math  — that’s a lot of theater. In theory, you could see more than 30 new shows over the course of 10 days.

Q. What’s the gist of the show?

A. The show centers around the barista — an overworked, underpaid young woman from “up top.” Despairing of ever paying off her college loans, she takes the first job she gets — which happens to be in hell. The show takes place during one work day in the café.

See the show

The Minnesota Fringe Festival will offer five performances of “Tales from Café Inferno” Aug. 1-9 at the Minneapolis Theater Garage, 711 W. Franklin Ave., Minneapolis. For details and tickets, visit fringefestival.org or follow the show on Facebook and on Twitter.

Q. Dante was Catholic, you’re Eastern Orthodox and you’re aiming to attract Fringe-Festival-goers, a largely secular audience. What is it about the “Inferno” that transcends church denominations and even religious faith?

A. The “Inferno” satirizes the inclination we have as humans to justify ourselves and our actions. We make excuses, we bargain, we do whatever it takes to prove to ourselves that we’re not at fault. “I couldn’t help it.” “Everyone else was doing it.” “At least I’m better than [name]!” As human beings, we are endowed with reason, and a side effect of that is reasoning away our own imperfections. It doesn’t matter if we’re Catholic or agnostic, Orthodox or atheist: We all do it, and the “Inferno” captures that very well.

Q. What does a poem written nearly 700 years ago offer to someone living now?

A. This particular poem offers one of the most searing looks at human nature ever written.

Q. How might the themes you present your audience strike them differently in stage form, in contrast to reading the “Inferno”?

A. The thing about doing Dante on the stage is that you have to do away almost completely with the physical settings. The landscapes Dante describes are far too detailed and far too graphic to do on stage, so you have to come at his world from the side. Like [the works of] C.S. Lewis, Jean-Paul Sartre and Samuel Beckett, “Café Inferno” focuses on the people of hell. Hell is within us, and I’ve told my actors repeatedly that it’s not so much a place you go as it is a way of life.

Q. Anything dealing with the “Divine Comedy” naturally deals with sin, which is not a popular idea in contemporary culture. How do you expect to present the idea of sin to a secular audience?

A. There are two ways to undermine something: condemn it or laugh at it. Condemning sin almost always sparks defensiveness, and besides, condemnation implies that we are in some way above whatever it is we’re condemning. . . . My goal with this show is to bring people together by having a good laugh at human weakness. The ethos I’m going for is: “Look at how ridiculous we are, clinging to our lusts, our excuses and our self-righteousness. We really are idiots, aren’t we?”

Q. What do you hope your audience takes away from the show?

A. If even one person walks away from seeing the show thinking, “That was me I just saw on stage,” the show will have been a success.


Who was Dante?

Dante Alighieri was a Florentine poet who lived 1265-1321 and is best known for writing the  “Divine Comedy.”

In the poem, Dante takes a pilgrimage from earth through Hell, Purgatory and Heaven to the beatific vision, exploring human nature, sin and redemption with the help of capable guides.

In May, Pope Francis called Dante “a prophet of hope, herald of the possibility of redemption, liberation and the profound transformation of every man and woman, of all humanity.” He encouraged Catholics to read the work as a spiritual guide ahead of the Year of Mercy, which begins in December.

This year marks the poet’s 750th birthday.

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