Death And The Maiden, a co-production of Torch Theater and Gremlin Theatre, at the Theatre Garage

Peter Christian Hansen, Craig Johnson and Stacia Rice in Death And The Maiden. Photo by Aaron Fenster.

Peter Christian Hansen, Craig Johnson and Stacia Rice in Death And The Maiden. Photo by Aaron Fenster.

This production of the oft-produced Death And The Maiden (Torch Theater and Gremlin Theatre, co-producing at the Theater Garage through Feb 21) begins with a prologue of sorts: Paulina Escobar (played with calm and statuesque fire by Stacia Rice) moves into the half-lit (Death And The Maiden often uses – overuses? – murky lighting) environs of the beach home she shares with her husband Gerardo.

Rice’s Paulina is brittle and hard, sharp-edged. Raw electricity was once applied to her body and it’s almost as if it’s still there, exploding through her thin and muscular frame. Paulina can’t sit still. She’s aquiver with sparrow-like tension.

Then she finds it, in a drawer: a gleaming black pistol.

Yikes. All this before Paulina confronts the hapless (or is he?) Dr. Miranda, the man Paulina believes tortured and repeatedly raped her. Paulina knocks Miranda out and trusses him up. And then the “trial” begins.

Craig Johnson plays the difficult role of Dr. Miranda and he really pulls it off; the sweeter he is, the more we believe Paulina is right. He done it. Lovely work. Gerardo is played by the always excellent Peter Christian Hansen. Hansen’s Gerardo is torn between his conviction of the bland Miranda’s innocence and his love for, and fervent belief in, his wife. Hansen brings this home vividly and his performance has breath-taking force.

The doctor never showed Paulina his face, so her evidence – fifteen years anon – is the sound his voice. The feel of his skin. His smell. Is Paulina insomniacally crazy, just a feverish player with pistols? This production would seem to suggest that she is, and this diminution of her character disappoints.

Because Death And The Maiden still packs a punch. The Pinochet dictatorship in Chile lasted until 1990, but most of the South American juntas ended in the mid-1980s. 30 years ago. The vicious (and pointless) torture that occurred in these states stands, as does the Holocaust, as one of the true Horrors of History and Chilean playwright Ariel Dorfmann does a great service by keeping the wounds open and fresh.

Death And The Maiden, which was written in 1990, is set in Everycountry, South America, and in the play Paulina’s obsessive quest for justice has real force. It raises delicious issues: the validity of eyewitness testimony, the nature of forgiveness, the presence of death, the dreary banality of evil (could the mild Miranda have really done what Paulina accuses him of?), political ambition. There’s enough going on this play to keep on the edge of the butt-numbing Theater Garage seats.

A shame, then, that this production, which was directed by David Mann, so distrusts the play.

A major case in point: the Guilt Soliloquy. This might easily have been staged with Paulina and Gerardo present, in which case we might have interpreted Miranda’s confession as false, done under pressure (Confess, Paulina states several times, or die). But Miranda is alone, isolated in a spot, and the convention, I believe, is that we’re hearing his inner thoughts. IOW, the information we’re getting is real. Miranda did rape and torture Paulina, along with 94 other prisoners. He’s guilty as charged.

This takes much of the wind out of the play’s sails. The central question – did he or didn’t he? – is answered for us. This gives the ending a creepy quality that, I believe, the playwright didn’t intend.

Still, in Death And The Maiden, there are pleasures galore: the play bristles with passion, raises make-you-think questions, develops genuine suspense. And the performances thrill. How could they not, with a cast as talented as this?

John Olive is a writer living in Minneapolis. His book Tell Me A Story In The Dark will be published, by Familius in March. Recently, John has written a novel (Deep River), a play (an adaptation of The Sisters Eight) and a screenplay (A Slaying Song Tonight). For more info, please visit his website.

How Was the Show for You?

Your email address will not be published.