Death And The Maiden

February 1, 2018

in Plays

Play (1990)
by Ariel Dorfman

Directed by Steven Maler

Commonwealth Shakespeare Company
Babson College
Wellesley, MA
January 30 – February 11, 2018

Scenic and Costume Designer: ClintRamos; Lighting Designer: Jeff Adelberg; Sound Designer: Arshan Gailus

With Flora Diaz (Paulia Salas), Mikey Solis (Gerardo Escobar), Mark Torres (Roberto Miranda)

Torres Diaz

Mark Torres as Roberto Miranda
Flora Diaz as Paulia Salas
in “Death And The Maiden”
Photo: Nile Hawver/Nile Scott Shots
Courtesy of Commonwealth Shakespeare Company

An intimately intense production of the drama about a woman in an unspecified Latin American country who identifies the perpetrator of violence against her during her political imprisonment years before and takes him to task for it.

Paulia Salas (Flora Diaz) is a former political prisoner whose husband, Gerardo Escobar (Mickey Solis), is now a government minister responsible for the investigation of past political crimes by a former administration.

Helped by a passer-by after he gets a flat tire, Gerardo invites the unsuspecting stranger, Roberto Miranda (Mark Torres), into their home. Immediately, Paulia becomes certain that Miranda, a physician, was intimately involved with the team of captors responsible for torturing and raping her during her imprisonment. Taking matters into her own hands, Paulia confronts Miranda and sets about to extract a confession from him while exacting other forms of retribution.

This intimately intense play, both a psychological and political drama, strongly demonstrates Dorfman’s influence by British absurdist playwright Harold Pinter about whom Dorfman wrote a thesis in 1968 and who became a personal friend of his later on. The sense of a fraught and intense alienation which gives rise to violent interchange is certainly Pinteresque. In the case of Pinter’s own plays, that alienation is often related to a generalized sense of social dislocation in contemporary society.

In Death and the Maiden the context is a more severe and focused form of political alienation clearly inspired by that experienced in Latin America during the repressions of several decades past.

Mark Torres as Roberto Miranda, Mikey Solis as Gerardo Escobar in 'Death and the Maiden'

Mark Torres as Roberto Miranda
Mikey Solis as Gerardo Escobar
in “Death And The Maiden”
Photo: Nile Hawver/Nile Scott Shots
Courtesy of Commonwealth Shakespeare Company

Dorfman was born in Argentina, but after a childhood sojourn in the United States, returned to settle in Chile. He was influential in the Allende regime of the early 1970s and was deeply affected by the murder of Allende and the overthrow of that regime by the ensuing dictatorship of Pinochet. Though Death and the Maiden is, like a good Pinteresque production, set in a more or less unspecified locale, it is clear that the history which embraces it is closely related to that of both Argentina and Chile which both suffered tyrannies and extremities of violence and political repression especially in the 1970s.

The play is dramatically intense, charging out of the gate with Paulia’s presumed recognition of, and challenge to, Miranda. Its central motif is identification and retribution. Yet, in keeping with absurdist form, what exactly happens in the culmination is left to some speculation. Dorfman’s curious refusal to hold to the realistic stance suggests his concern to show that a pervasive falsity and misrepresentation on many fronts arises from the preceding context of violence. Whether justice prevails in the outcome is left to the imagination, with a healthy dose of ambiguity and absurdism seasoning any developments in the underlying political context.

This production, done on a central stage in the black box theater at Babson, creates, through its sleek but effective staging, a sense of the varieties of landscapes in which it occurs. Beautiful panels of gently lighted seascapes line the upper walls, and sound design (by Arshan Gailus) yields a truly three-dimensional sense of the environment as it echoes the sea and other enveloping phenomena. As well, the sound design evokes quotes from the famed Schubert string quartet Death and The Maiden which gives its title to the play.

Of course, that title, Death and the Maiden, not only stands as the emblem of that notable quartet, but echoes metaphorically with the intense plot and its principal character.

FLora Diaz is indeed a complex, riveting and sometimes possessed Paulia, believably accountable at one turn, and demoniacally driven at the next.

As Gerardo, Paulia’s political husband, Mickey Solis provides a subtle bridge between conformity and catastrophe, adeptly holding that distance in a difficult intermediate role.

As Miranda, Mark Torres, at a crucial point, gives an exquisitely nuanced monologue, a wonderfully rendered account of a beautifully written rationale for the slide into dastardly affiliation. It’s the best part of the play and stands on its own as a detailed phenomenology of the advent of hypocrisy.

– BADMan

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