note: entire contents copyright 1998 by Larry Stark
Paulina Escobar..........Dina Comolli
Gerardo Escobar..........Ray Schmoll
Dr. Roberto Miranda...Matt Chiorini
Todd Olson calls his new company "Todd's Hammer" and he is both director and designer of the first production. In choosing Ariel Dorfman's tightly balanced play about residual guilt and vengeance in her native Chile he serves notice that plays about ideas inevitably become plays about human beings. Governmental oppressions, atrocities and torture leave sensitive scars that never heal. But when the confrontations take place in a suburban living-room, they are no longer dispassionately abstract news reports.
Olson has dissolved the walls, and placed the audience close up against all four sides of this central cockpit, so the passions unleashed are never far from any spectator. And he demands tautly realistic playing from the three contenders. Candles, pistol-shots, food, furniture, even the constant sound of waves lapping at the bottom of a cliff are all treated as concretely as events and emotions, so as to heighten their impact.
Ray Schmoll plays a member of the government nominated to head an investigation of "The Disappeared" and of the government agents who tortured and murdered them but were never brought to justice --- never even, in most cases, accused or unmasked. He feels a duty to be fair but hopes shine the light of truth not only on murders, but on repressive, humiliating tortures.
But while they were secret members of the resistance, his young wife disappeared for several months of repeated torture she has never discussed. At the opening of the play Dina Comolli plays her as still distraught, nervous, and fearful that her husband's new job will rake up old wounds. When she hears a neighbor, come to do a favor, she is convinced it is the voice of a doctor that presided over her "interrogations" --- the man who raped her repeatedly. She strangles and ties him up, and demands at gun-point that her husband, the new judge, exact his confession.
Is she deluded? Matt Chiorini as this doctor insists people in Barcelona will swear he wasn't even in the country at the time. Her husband cannot tell which one to believe --- and through most of the play this very crucial point remains in doubt, swayed now one way, now the other, tautly undecided, while the details of those "interrogations" and their humiliations flood back into the woman's mind.
It is a credit to the entire company that, throughout the near two hours of contention, the pace and the tensions remain unbroken, the passionate conflicts unresolved, and their intensity totally believable. Ariel Dorfman, Todd Olson and his company have made a "play of ideas" into exciting theater. Todd's Hammer is off to a brilliant beginning.