THE TENSION IN “DEATH AND THE MAIDEN” IS PALPABLE, ARIEL DORFMAN’S PLAY IS DRAMA AT ITS MOST INTENSE
Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy’s DEATH AND THE MAIDEN is pure, intense drama at its finest. The show, which opened on Wednesday, July 28th, tells the story of Paulina (Benji Taylor Jones), a woman who was abducted, raped, and tortured by the minions of a military dictatorship in an unnamed South American country. One fateful night, 15 years after her release, her attorney husband, Gerardo (Alan Campbell), welcomes a helpful stranger, Dr. Roberto Miranda (David McClutchey), into his home and invites him to spend the night. Paulina becomes convinced that Dr. Miranda is one of the men who held her captive and brutalized her all those years ago.
Later, unbeknownst to her husband, she knocks out Miranda; drags him into the living room; ties and gags him; and appoints herself judge, jury, and executioner in a makeshift trial. Once her husband reluctantly joins in on the action, the lines of truth and reality begin to blur, leaving the viewer hanging on to every word.
The tension that exists on stage is palpable, and each character is brought to full and vibrant life by the three gifted actors. Jones’ Paulina is disturbed, plotting and, in her own way, entirely sympathetic, whereas McClutchey’s Dr. Miranda is just slimy enough that the viewer will have doubts about his innocence. Most impressive here is Alan Campbell’s multilayered portrayal of Gerardo, a man whose loyalties are split between his belief in democratic institutions and judicial fairness and his touching love and empathy for his wife.
Scenic and lighting designer Chris Bernier’s subtle lighting, used only to take the scene from day to night or to highlight the most dramatic of moments, works well here, as does Bernier’s set design. A few quick changes to the set take the audience from the inside of the couple’s home to their private moments on the front porch, still allowing the viewer to witness the bound Dr. Miranda.
Paulina’s haunting words about having to listen to Schubert’s “Death and The Maiden” as she lay terrified in the dark in prison, deprived of her sight and her dignity, are immediately followed by fitting blackness and then Dr. Miranda’s chilling confession. The catch here is that audience members are left to draw their own conclusions about the validity of that confession. All of this leads up to an edge-of-your-seat climax and an eerie, unsettling conclusion.
Even those viewers who do not have a solid understanding of the political situation in Southern American countries, such as Chile, which playwright Ariel Dorfman fled after the 1973 coup d’étatled by army general Augusto Pinochet, will be able to empathize with each character and find themselves thinking about the very definitions of right and wrong and questioning whether vigilante justice is appropriate when a newly elected democratic government refuses to right the monstrous wrongs perpetuated by a brutal military dictator and his henchmen. This is, quite simply, the stuff that real theater is made of.
DEATH AND THE MAIDEN will continue its run through Sunday, August 8th. Tickets can be purchased by visiting http://www.hotsumemrnightsatthekennedy.org.
Second Opinion: Read review by Robert W. McDowell