note: entire contents copyright 2000 by Chuck Galle
Death And The Maiden by Ariel Dorfman is being performed for the next three weeks at the Edwin Booth Theatre in Dover NH. Ariel Dorfman's powerful tale of emotion versus reason, of innocence and guilt, or the rule of law and the rule of might is done as powerfully as it is written to be by three fine actors and one superb director. The show raises a Great Question.
The great question which is posed in Death And the Maiden is a Great Question precisely because most people think they know the answer: what is justice? Justice is assurance that injustice will not be repeated. Or, justice is ironic balance, an eye for eye, a life for a life. Or, justice is Mercy teaching humanity to the inhumane. In the United States we have a whole Justice Department, charged, presumably, with implementing justice across the land. How easily does anyone's justice resolve long term torture and rape on a single individual as means of forwarding political views which condone such methods? What would You do if You had free rein on just one torturer/rapist? How would you implement justice? Please understand that this question is not asked to have you turn to your mate and say "Hey, here's a good question for you . . ." Not one to toss on the table with a round of beers and a knowledgeable toss of your head. It's one to go to sleep with if you can sleep with it. It's one to disturb your thinking about how effectively punishment changes the behavior of adults, what the real meaning of the death penalty is, what purpose prisons serve, what rehabilitation means to you, to Us.
Death And the Maiden is the name of a musical composition by Schubert which was played by Dr.Miranda as he tortured and raped and raped and tortured and led cowardly brutes to rape and torture Paulina fifteen years ago in some Banana Republic. Incredible fortune brings him into her home on the night her husband has been appointed to the Commission investigating those very inhumanities under the former regime, now replaced with The Good Guys . Paulina doesnıt see the vicious Doctor when she first recognizes him, she only hears his voice. Could anyone ever mistake the voice of the man who repeatedly raped and tortured her? Unfortunately, sneaking up on his sleeping form and brutally venting some past rage, and tying him up and gagging him -- you can guess with what -- isn't behavior befitting the wife of the youngest lawyer appointed to the President's Truth and Reconciliation Commission. I mean, identification of a notorious criminal from his voice alone by a woman who has not yet recovered fully from the months of rape and torture? Her husband Gerardo reasons with her, but she has a more powerful logic in her hand, a loaded automatic pistol. Either the sonovabitch confesses all his crimes into a tape recorder, and hand writes them and signs the document or she is going to blow his f***ing head off. I'm not going to tell you much more about the story than that, it's been around for a while and anyway you wouldn't go to see it just find out how it ends. You would go to see it to see three fine actors run these characters through their paces and to refresh your mind with the need to think about something which is everyday and never at the same time. You would see it to be arrested from your complacency, to be rejuvenated in your willingness to repuzzle the entirely enigmatic.
Designer director Edward Langlois kept his set a secret until opening night. There is a startling quality to the manner in which he has created the living-dining room of the the Escobarıs nice little middle-class home. It has the sofa and the easy chair, and the slightly raised dining area with chrome dining set and it has the nice little bar with the expensive booze. But the walls. Well, the walls are, well, silvery. They sort of reflect. With the touch of the master this is not a garish effect, but rather it tells us there is a metaphoric mirror happening on this stage. A mirror of the mind.
Actress Deborah Langlois as Paulina tells her story with all the tools of an accomplished actressıs trade; a little flakiness, a little sexiness, a little stark seriousness, a range from acquiescence to rage. Her unexplained attack on the doctor as he sleeps is done with such relish and brutality I wanted to interrupt because perhaps she'd lost her real mind.
Greg Athens is an actor I have not seen enough of since I first met him a year or so ago, and it was gratifying to find that he has been studying his craft, amply displayed in this portrayal of the proud young lawyer who is flabbergasted at this preposterous turn of events. It is not fear of his career being ruined that drives Gerardo's attempts to exercise rationality but a sincere belief in the rule of the rules of law. Torn deeply by his love of Paulina and his love of the process of law -- to avoid just this kind of situation -- Greg winds us through the maze of his two-mindedness with an easy believability. Never outdone by his situation Greg takes Gerardo up to everything we would love to love about lawyers and bury instead in harsh jokes.
Jim Fellows has undertaken the unenviable roll of Dr. Miranda, and makes him a sympathetic character. Not the least, suffering through some one third of the show with his mouth full of cloth and his hands and feet immobile. With only eyes and keenly limited motions available with which to act he gives a fine lesson in the adage "acting is reacting." When he is finally able to act and "defend" himself he makes a convincing advocate of his own innocence. Right up to the end.
This a fine performance of an important play, gripping and thought provoking, highly recommended.
Death And The Maiden shows Thursdays through Saturdays at 8:00 PM and Sundays at 7:00 PM at the Edwin Booth Theatre in Dover NH, through December 18th. Call 603-750- 3243 for reservations and more information.