RVA Shakespeare’s Death and the Maiden Tells a Powerful Dark Story
“The word theatre comes from the Greeks. It means the seeing place. It is the place people come to see the truth about life and the social situation.” Stella Adler—
Ariel Dorfman’s Death and the Maiden is the story of Gerardo Escobar (David Clark), an up-and-comer in a newly democratic Chile, and his wife, Paulina Salas (Katrinah Carol Lewis), a political prisoner and victim of rape and torture at the hands of a doctor and his cohorts under General Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship. The couple have a fragile relationship; she refused to name him under interrogation years before, and he vows to bring justice for her cause. He is soon named to the new President’s commission investigating the former regime’s atrocities.
A seemingly chance encounter – a stranger helping Gerardo with a flat tire in the middle of the night—brings the pair face-to-face with her alleged tormentor. Paulina is certain she recognizes the Good Samaritan’s voice, smell, and skin, even many years later. She is convinced the man is Dr. Roberto Miranda (Christopher Dunn), the instrument of her torture who played Schubert’s Death and the Maiden as he committed his unspeakable acts.
When Gerardo invites Dr. Miranda to spend the night in their home, Paulina seizes the opportunity to seek revenge by tying him up, subjecting him to torture, and staging a mock trial to eke a confession out of the man who destroyed her life. Are Paulina’s memories—the voice, the skin, the smell—real? Or is she about to ruin an innocent man?
The performances are chilling. The truth is hard to watch. But “the seeing place” has an intermission; a chance to drink a glass of wine, catch up with friends, and forget about the atrocities that took place in another country, another time. Not so fast. In one of the most impactful moments of the evening, Dr. Miranda is left gagged and bound on stage, being tortured before our very eyes. (I was relieved to learn that there was someone watching over him, making sure the actor was ok.) The symbolism—the veil we put over our eyes to ignore evil—was clear.
Henley Street Theatre and Richmond Shakespeare take their role in the community seriously. They entertain, they inform, they illuminate. And in this production, they make the work relevant. And so the evening ended with a talk-back with the actors, led by a young, African-American single mother, Nicole, who was abused, tortured, and nearly killed at the hands of her ex-boyfriend, now serving time for murdering his ex-wife and daughter. Death and the Maiden brings to light the horrors suffered by women throughout the world. Nicole brings that horror home. It is much harder to unsee the truth when it up close and personal.
Women are being abused and tormented in our own city, perhaps our own family. Will we, like the audience at a theatre performance, put the veil over our eyes? Or will we join our voices to speak out against all crimes of humanity?
Death and the Maiden continues its run at Gottwald Playhouse at Richmond Centerstage through March 1, 2014.
lie Harthill Clayton is an out and proud bisexual with a passion for reading, writing . . . and NOT arithmetic. She’s the proud mom of two young adult men and is slowly adjusting to having them both away at college. Her work has appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, the Internet Review of Books, Curve Magazine, Lambda Literary and more. She is the newest member of the Richmond Theatre Critics Circle. A paralegal by day, Julie spends her free time knitting, writing, and reading anything she can get her hands on. She lives in Richmond with her partner, local artist David Turner, and their mischievous and loving hunting dog, Max.
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