The sparse staging of Ariel Dorfman’s Death and the Maiden, performed in the Haywood Arts Region Theatre‘s new Feichter Studio, puts the focus on a trio of actors. They are confronted by harrowing pasts and deadly choices in the present that may bend the future of a recently democratized nation. The use of an old hand held cassette player/recorder that appears mid way through sets the play in time as a confession of horrendous war crimes are being tortured out of the accused aggressor, Dr. Roberto Miranda.
The events are brought to life by HART’s executive director Steve Lloyd in a rare but compelling performance. The audience is left wondering if Miranda is indeed guilty of the heinous crimes he is accused of by a former victim. Julie Kinter plays Paulina Salas, a woman who, 15 years earlier, was picked up off the street by roving government death squads. Haunted by the past, she believes this man who helped her stranded husband back home is the same man who taunted her while unspeakable things were done to her. Kinter gives a powerful portrait of a woman obsessed and possessed. She may also be unhinged to such a degree that she is willing to torture and perhaps even kill a man whose voice she only heard while blindfolded.
Charles Mills perfectly embodies Paulina’s husband, the desperately conflicted Gerardo Escobar. He’s a political climber in the new democratic government, tasked with helping to investigate and hold trials for similarly accused. But he has a hard time believing that Miranda could possibly be the man of his wife’s nightmares.
This is a gripping study of three people locked in a battle of wills. The central dilemma that confronts Gerardo is whom to believe and how to diffuse the tense situation. It’s that or risk the life of Miranda, the sanity of his wife and the future that awaits him in a finally just nation that has too-long been torn by evil.
A 1994 film version of play stared Sigourney Weaver and Ben Kingsley, and was directed by Roman Polanski. Dorfman’s play is a rare gem of political theatre with the politics put on the back burner and the raw emotion and lust for pure revenge brought up front. Dorfman lived through similar situaryion, having been born in Argentina and later a Chilean citizen. He was an advisor to the president during the time of the Pinochet coupe; he currently teaches at Duke University.
Death and the Maiden runs through Sunday, Feb. 22, with shows on Friday and Saturday, at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, at 2 p.m. $6-$10.