By Alexandra Suttie
Remember the time you survived a Cold War coup and then Meryl Streep starred in your play? Yeah, us neither. Meet the guy who does.
This prodigiously talented playwright – and author of Purgatorio, the second play in Citizen Theatre’s double bill ‘Inferno’ – has led a life so interesting that a documentary about him was shortlisted for an Academy Award.
As you can already imagine, it’s been hard to choose the most interesting things to showcase about this Chilean-American. His writing is strongly grounded in a deeply philosophical and politically conscious understanding of the human condition. After reading these five facts, you’ll understand why.
1. Ariel Dorfman describes himself as “bilingual”, “multicultural” and “hybrid”. He was born in Argentina, lived briefly in the US as a child and then spent nearly 20 years in Chile until 1973. He now splits his time between Chile and the US.
2. Due to a “series of interconnected miracles”, Dorfman cheated death during the 1973 Cold War coup d’état in Chile.
Before becoming a playwright, Dorfman worked as a cultural advisor to the then-President, Salvador Allende. Right before this watershed event, Dorfman swapped shifts with a close friend. He had no idea what would happen next.
Consequently, he wasn’t at the presidential palace on the night it was stormed by troops and President Allende was murdered along with many other officials.
Dorfman was exiled to the US as the cruel dictator, Augustus Pinochet, took over and ended 41 years of democratic rule. He says that afterwards, “what I think I did is turned myself into the storyteller. I’ve spent the last 25 years telling the story, in many different ways, of Chile.”
3. Dorfman’s writing has attracted many acclaimed actors, especially his play Speak Truth to Power: Voice from Beyond the Dark, based on interviews with human rights defenders.
It first premiered at the Kennedy Centre in Washington D.C. in 2000 featuring Kevin Kline, Sigourney Weaver and Alec Baldwin.
After the 2010 Chilean earthquake, New York’s Public Theater ran the play as a benefit. This time the impressive cast list included Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, Viggo Mortensen, Paul Sorvino, Stanely Tucci, Debra Winger, Gloria Reuban, Alfred Molina and Marcia Gay Harden.
4. Dorfman’s most famous play, Death and the Maiden, depicts an encounter between a former torture victim and the man she believed tortured her. Roman Polanski adapted the play for film – Dorfman co-wrote the screenplay – in 1994 and actors Sigourney Weaver and Ben Kingsley starred in it.
5. Dorfman has written extensively on politics and human rights. The 1971 book he co-authored ‘How to Read Donald Duck” argued that Walt Disney cartoon characters were used to naturalise the US’s corporate exploitation of Latin American countries.
It comes as no surprise that he has also been extremely critical of Augustus Pinochet, writing extensively on the General’s extradition case.
Dorfman believes that all writing is deeply political, and at best “engages the major dilemmas … of the community”.
In Purgatorio – featured in Inferno: A Double Bill – Dorfman hoped to capture some of the political concerns and social anxiety surrounding the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
We’ve only just dipped our toes into the ocean of fascinating tales that make up Ariel Dorfman’s life; his experiences bleed beautifully into his writing. He has the unique ability to capture the most painful of human experiences and explore them using only an exchange between two people.
Witness the magic yourself and be awed by Dorfman’s talent by booking tickets to Inferno: A Double Bill playing at L1 Studios Melbourne CBD in February 2016. His masterpiece, Purgatorio, will ask you to question your own capacity for forgiveness and test the boundaries of your pride.
See double and save: book for both shows online and save $10!