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“Death and the Maiden” preview by Robert W. McDowell


1995 Tony Award® nominee Alan Campbell (SUNSET BOULEVARD) of New York City and Raleigh, NC actors Benji Taylor Jones and David McClutchey will star in Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy’s presentation of DEATH AND THE MAIDEN. Campbell will play Gerardo Escobar; Jones will portray his wife, Paulina Salas; and McClutchey tackle the role of Gerardo’s new acquaintance Dr. Roberto Miranda in this intense 1990 psychological drama by Chilean-American playwright and Duke University faculty member Ariel Dorfman. DEATH AND THE MAIDEN will run July 28-Aug. 1 and Aug. 4-8 in the Sara Lynn and K.D. Kennedy, Jr. Theater in the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Raleigh.

“This is a real ‘actors’ play,'” claims Hot Summer Nights producer and director Adam Twiss, “and I tend to choose material to direct that I would like to act in. There is an exceptional story to be told; it’s beautiful; it’s poignant, and it lies entirely in the hands of the actors to take the audience on a moment to moment journey of discovery.”

DEATH AND THE MAIDEN is set in an upscale beach house in a nameless South American country, very much like Chile, just after a democratic government has replaced the monstrously oppressive regime, such as that of Chilean Army general Augusto Pinochet (1915-2006), who led the 1973 military coup that ousted and assassinated democratically elected President Salvador Allende (1908-73).

Alan Campbell & David McClutchey. Photos by Katherine Kennedy

Adam Twiss adds, “[DEATH AND THE MAIDEN] is a gritty drama that is brilliantly performed. We do employ gunshots, and some of the language and descriptions of torture and rape are very graphic in nature. It’s a play that needs to be seen, but I encourage our audience to be ready for a gut-check when they enter the theater.”

After having its world premiere on July 9, 1991 at the Royal Court Theatre in London’s West End, DEATH AND THE MAIDEN made its Broadway debut, directed by Mike Nichols, on March 17, 1992 at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, where it played for 159 performances before closing on Aug. 2, 1992. The original Broadway production starred Glenn Close as Paulina, Richard Dreyfuss as Gerardo, and Gene Hackman as Roberto. DEATH AND THE MAIDEN won the 1992 Tony Award® for Best Actress in a Play (Glenn Close).

The 1994 motion-picture version of DEATH AND THE MAIDEN, directed by Roman Polanski from a screenplay by Ariel Dorfman and Rafael Yglesias, starred Sigourney Weaver as Paulina, Stuart Wilson as Gerardo, and Ben Kingsley as Roberto.

“DEATH AND THE MAIDEN was a powerful play when it first hit the stage in the early 1990s,” recalls Hot Summer Nights director Adam Twiss, “and it attracted a lot of attention when the Broadway run, directed by Mike Nichols, sported three of the biggest names in Hollywood at the time: Glenn Close, Richard Dreyfus, and Gene Hackman. However, it was the chilling Roman Polanski film with Sigourney Weaver, Ben Kingsley, and Stuart Wilson that first got me interested in the play.”

Twiss adds, “This is a moral thriller, where truth and justice hang in the balance. The story is set in an unnamed, newly democratic country, still reeling in the aftermath of a lengthy military dictatorship. [When the curtain rises] It’s evening at a private beach-house, where Paulina Salas (Benji Taylor Jones) waits for her husband Gerardo Escobar (1995 Tony Award nominee Alan Campbell), a rising star in the newly elected, liberal, people’s government.

“Gerardo’s car has broken down on his way home from meeting with the new President where he was asked to lead a new commission seeking truth and retribution for heinous crimes, perpetrated by and against individuals during the past regime,” Twiss explains. “A stranger, and good Samaritan, Dr. Roberto Miranda (David McClutchey), stops to pick him up and take him to his home; returning later to drop off the spare tire that had been left in his car, but also to congratulate Gerardo on his being named to head this commission. It’s late; they have been drinking; and Gerardo, sensing no danger, invites Dr. Miranda to stay the night in his guest room.”

Alan Campbell & Benji Taylor Jones. Photos by Katherine Kennedy.

But, Twiss says, “Paulina, having heard the Doctor speak from another room, believes him to be the person who had repeatedly tortured and raped her when she was taken prisoner and held for questioning by the government 15 years ago. She determines to hold the doctor prisoner and seek his confession and repentance through coercion. Gerardo, now heading up a commission aimed at putting an end to just these kinds of practices, is now an accomplice to the crime.”

In addition to producer and director Adam Twiss and producer and star Alan Campbell, the Hot Summer Nights creative team for this production of DEATH AND THE MAIDEN includes producers Lauren Kennedy,Hilary Russo, and Andrea Schulz Twiss; assistant director Jess Jones; technical director and set and lighting designer Chris Bernier; costume designer Kristin Greinheisen; properties manager Leanne Norton Heintz; sound designer Brian L. Hunt; and stage manager Mette Schladweiler.

Director Adam Twiss says DEATH AND THE MAIDEN will unfold on a three-quarters thrust stage decorated with “wood construction, louvres, [and] contemporary furnishings.” He adds, “Realistic interior lighting, including practical lamps, will shift to evocative, psychologically illustrative lighting within the scenes…. Realistic, upscale, contemporary clothing will require a great deal of movement and action.”

Twiss says, “Along with being a riveting, intense drama, [DEATH AND THE MAIDEN] is a big ‘idea play.’ The trap with this type of material is that it feels that it wants to live in either an unsustainable, high-emotional place that borders on melodrama, or a more cerebral place, where the stakes may be high, but the actors and audience will not share the cathartic, empathetic experience.

“Working with this material is precarious, and we need to balance the guts with the intellectual inspiration,” declares Adam Twiss. “We have found that keeping our world real more than theatrical (in a design sense) gives the characters the grounding they need to sustain the drama, while still allowing for the brilliant ideas to shine through the dialogue. This basis in reality also serves to strengthen the few truly ‘theatrical’ departures we make along the way.”

After DEATH AND THE MAIDEN closes on Aug. 8th, the final show of the 2010 season of Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy will be Andrew Lloyd Webber’s one-act song cycle TELL ME ON A SUNDAY(Aug. 18-Sept 5), starring Raleigh native, Broadway star, and Hot Summer nights producer Lauren Kennedy. TELL ME ON A SUNDAY will run Aug. 18-22 and 25-29 in the Kennedy Theater in the Progress Energy Center in Raleigh and Sept 1-5 in Barton College’s Lauren Kennedy and Alan Campbell Theatre in Wilson.

Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy presents DEATH AND THE MAIDEN at 8 p.m. July 28-31, 3 p.m. Aug. 1, 8 p.m. Aug. 4-7, and 3 p.m. Aug. 8 in the Sara Lynn and K.D. Kennedy, Jr. Theater in the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27601.


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