Writer: Ariel Dorfman
Director: Abdul Shayek
Designer: Amy Jane Cook
Reviewer: Emily Pearce
Director Abdul Shayek’s realisation of Ariel Dorfman’s Oliver award-winning play takes an already dark and rich subject matter to a new level in this brutal and intense revival.
Death And The Maiden focuses on the story of Paulina Salas, a torture victim of a brutal military dictatorship. Although ultimately freed, Paulina is reliant on her husband Gerado, a politician with increasing profile, as her confidant. One night, a kindly stranger, Dr Miranda, arrives at their door late at night unannounced, forcing Paulina to confront her fears face-to-face. What seems initially as a kind of sophisticated ‘Whodunnit’ style play, quickly becomes a ‘cat and mouse’ duel of power. Power between Paulina and her potential captor, but also between a wife and a husband.
In lesser actors, Death and the Maiden could easily descend into vengeful melodrama. However, as Paulina, Lisa Zahra is at once fragile, brittle, unhinged and charming. Her compelling and unimprovable performance allows a viewer to empathise, to the point of nearly desiring the need for vengeance with her, while also feeling pity at what has become of her at others’ hands. Vinto Morgan’s subtle turn as her dependable and rational husband Gerado is an excellent foil; his voice of reason becoming ever faint as the desire for vengeance takes over. Finally, Pradeep Jay’s complex portrayal as the (perhaps wronged) Dr Miranda is deadly effective. His increasing desperation shows the lack of effectiveness of torture and leaves all guessing his guilt long after the play finishes.
Amy Jane Cook’s cloaked set of drawn curtains, carpets and candlelight endears an unwitting audience into thinking that they are part of an intimate dinner party, which eventually turns into something far more sinister and complicit. With no interval and at an hour and forty minutes (a little long perhaps for some more mature members of the audience), there is no relenting in the intensity or much in the way to light relief. But then, to entertain is not really the point of this play.
Death and the Maiden’s slow descent and reveal of man’s worst traits are covered subtly at first – in increasingly disturbing flashbacks, and always to the dulcet string tones of Schubert’s Death and the Maiden – but by its chilling denouement boldly asks the questions that still, unfortunately, seem relevant today. Put most simply, does revenge ever satisfy? And, if you don’t speak up, are you complicit in evil?
In today’s society, where the truth and accountability seem more important than ever, Death and the Maiden offers a close, unsettling study of revenge and recovery from corruption and torture.
Runs until 10th November 2017 | Image: Contributed