Front Row Center
By Michael Warren
Death and The Maiden
By Ariel Dorfman
Directed by LB Hamilton
Chilean playwright Ariel Dorfman wrote this play in 1990, shortly after Chile’s return to democracy after the brutal rule of General Augusto Pinochet. As President, Pinochet was in effect a dictator and during his rule it is estimated that about 3,000 people were murdered with up to 80,000 forcibly interned and as many as 30,000 tortured. In this intense and thought-provoking play, Dorfman explores questions of justice and forgiveness in the aftermath of such a national trauma.
The time is the present in an unnamed South American country, and it is fifteen years after the overthrow of a fascist regime. “Paulina” was tortured and repeatedly raped by agents of the regime, and is now living quietly in a beach house with her husband “Gerardo” who is a human rights lawyer. She is still recovering from her terrible experiences, and feels betrayed by society and even by her own husband who urges her to “move on.” How can anyone possibly move on without satisfactory revenge or acknowledgment of her suffering? The new government has set up a Commission (of which Gerardo is a member) but it is only authorized to investigate extreme cases resulting in death.
Onto this troubled stage comes “Doctor Roberto Miranda,” a stranger who has assisted Gerardo with a flat tire problem, and given him a ride home. Instantly Paulina recognizes his voice as that of the sadistic doctor who played Schubert’s “Death and The Maiden” string quartet while she was being raped and tortured. She traps Roberto and ties him to a chair. The play is concerned with their confrontation, and eventually she insists that Gerardo conduct Roberto’s defense in a mock trial. She has a gun and may shoot the doctor, but what she needs is his confession and remorse so that she can forgive him. The author does not give us a neat happy ending, and we are left uncertain as to whether Roberto is innocent or guilty or a victim of Paulina’s paranoia.
The actors give us the required pace and intensity, so that the play grips us in a stranglehold of fear and doubt. Jacinta Stringer plays the traumatized Paulina with considerable skill – her hatred and conflicting need for resolution are poles that she swings between throughout the play. Russell Mack interprets the role of Gerardo as peacemaker and the voice of reason. I felt that he lacked empathy with his wife, and just wanted the whole problem to go away so that he could get on with his career. There was a lack of real love for Paulina, but maybe that was the author’s intention. Paul Kloegman (as Doctor Miranda) spends much of the play bound and gagged, so it’s difficult to comment on his acting. He certainly came across well with fear and anger during the mock trial scene. My only quibble is with the ending, with a video of various genocides and atrocities pointing the moral in a heavy-handed way. Not the ending that Dorfman wrote.
Overall, a remarkable performance of a remarkable play. I congratulate LLT on having the courage to put on such an intense and risky piece of writing. Well done by all concerned, both back- and onstage. Carolyn Cothran was Stage Manager, Bruce Linnen was her Assistant, and Fotini LaGuardia was Production Assistant. And now for something completely different! “Chicago” the musical opens on February 17 and runs through February 28.
Column: Front Row Center
Michael Warren grew up in London, England and lived on Baker Street very close to where Sherlock Holmes hung out his shingle. He graduated with an Honors degree in Mathematics from King’s College, Cambridge, which no doubt helps him to balance his check book. While a student, he edited a humorous magazine entitled “ffobia” which was widely circulated amongst his friends.