“Death and the Maiden” Keeps Audience on Edge

By Katie Tabeling
Elm Staff Writer

With a title such as “Death and the Maiden,” it is safe to assume that the professor and student directed play would not be a continuous stream of hilarity, as was last semester’s series of productions. Playwright Ariel Dorfman’s play was an intense, emotional psychological drama that leaves the audience questioning who really is the victim and the villain.

“Death and the Maiden” focuses on a young couple after the fall of a dictatorship. Gerardo (Mike Zurawski) is an ambitious lawyer who has recently been appointed to lead a committee that will examine human rights violations during the dictatorship.
His wife, Paulina (Katie Muldowney) is a former political prisoner who was raped and tortured and lives in constant fear and paranoia of strangers. One fateful day, Gerado rides home with Dr. Roberto Miranda (John Lesser) after he gets a flat. Paulina recognizes Roberto as one of her more sadistic captors and holds him at gunpoint to get a confession.

Plays are supposed to be an interaction with the actors and the audience, but many vary on success. However, “Death and the Maiden” is on level with the audience thanks to many of the directors’ choices. Using an elevated platform not only established a deliberate scene, but it placed the characters at eye-level with the raised seats in Tawes Theater, establishing a direct connection. At the end of the play, a camera was turned onto the audience and displayed the varying expressions at the open-ended play, giving the impression that the audience is almost a jury.

However, these choices somewhat hindered the otherwise powerful performance. While the camera provided a delightful perspective and final twist in the last scene, it was otherwise annoying. The camera was used extraneously in dramatic moments, tracing certain actor’s movements.

It was difficult focusing on Gerardo and Roberto’s conversation in the first act when the camera was trained on an eavesdropping Paulina. She was easy to see from any point, and Muldowney made deliberate movements that could be picked out from a distance.

In another instance, Paulina holds a gun to Roberto’s head, and the camera focuses on Robtero and his intense fear, which again divides the audience’s attention. In addition, the choice of staging it on a platform presented some viewing issues. As the action switched from off the platform, it was a little awkward, and it involved much neck-craning.

Despite the few shortcomings, “Death and the Maiden” is excellently rendered, and it is easy to see with such actors making up the cast. Muldowney, Zurawski, and Lesser are seasoned actors in their own rite, and each bring a different flavor. The chemistry that the actors share provides an easy, flowing interaction with the characters. Emotional tension arrives easily in the script, but the actors draw it out and make it their own.

In countless plays, past and present, it is clearly establish the good guys from the bad guys. Sure, there’s the occasional character that toes the lie between right and wrong throughout the play and their motives for their deeds are often obvious. In “Death and the Maiden” there are no such characters. There is a line and all the characters completely disregard it; of the three characters, Gerardo is the only one who attempts to steer his fellow characters back to morality, but he is often foiled.

In any case, total abandonment of the moral compass is what makes “Death and the Maiden” so engaging. In real life, people are immoral, imperfect, and sometimes flat-out wicked. Who’s to say that when placed in Paulina’s shoes we wouldn’t kill our rapist? And would we really blame her for killing him? Can we truly judge?

“Death and the Maiden” boldly asks the audience to ask where their breaking point is, keeping the audience on pins and needles until the house lights come on.

Volume LXXXI Issue 16

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