Friday, May 4, 2012

Review: (Ottawa) Death and The Maiden

(Gladstone website promo art)

Death and the maiden examines issues still current
by Jim Murchison

As the promotional material for Ariel Dorfman’s Death and the Maiden promises, the play examines complex themes of innocence and guilt; vengeance and paranoia. Producer Terri Loretto-Valentik’s opening comments to an audience that included the Chilean ambassador, told us that the play is set in a country much like Chile but not necessarily Chile. This is a starting point of a play that gains formidable strength from its own ambiguity. 

Craig Walker directs the play with an understated tension that is totally compelling. There is so much potential for a violent explosion at any time, that we are kept on the edge of our seats wondering if and when the other shoe will drop. 

What restitution is just for victims of such violence and tyranny?

By grabbing a great global question and stripping it down and presenting it through the eyes of three intensely human individuals, life is breathed into the issues. Law is after all evolutionary by design and nature, growing on a parallel course with our own understanding of our vices and prejudices. What restitution is just for victims of such violence and tyranny?

What is very real and very clear and unambiguous in the play is the pain of the victims. Genevieve Sirois plays Paulina Salas as the frightened victim of abduction, rape and torture. As believable as she is as the cringing and frightened Paulina, Sirois seems to strike the strongest chord with the audience, when she is playing the moments of sardonic wit and coveting her pound of flesh. 
Chris Ralph as Gerardo Escobar, Paulina’s husband represents law and justice. He excellently executes the role of a man on a delicate tightrope of civic duty and spousal responsibility. He very skilfully plays a man conflicted, and keeps the audience wondering if he will be able to maintain the commitment to his office while remaining compassionate to his wife.

Paul Rainville as Roberto Miranda is totally engaging as the Samaritan. There is desperation in his performance as he begs for his life that makes you wonder if he could be the man he is accused of being or is he perhaps just another victim. It is theatrically quite powerful that he remains on stage for the entire intermission.

If you are one of those people that expects resolution and a neatly packaged ending that resolves all, you will not find it here. What you will experience is thought provoking drama that challenges you to consider and think. If given the opportunity for vengeance and the power to exact the justice we would like to have, would we behave any differently than our oppressors? Would we delight in seeing our enemies suffer? When separated by years or decades from the crimes committed and living with that horrible pain, can we even be sure we are punishing the right people? Death and the Maiden challenges us to keep asking the right questions.   

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