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Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

Pointed and Pertinent Thriller
Death and the Maiden Asks Questions

Duke City Repertory Theatre
Review by Stephanie Hainsfurther

Also see Stephanie's reviews of And Away We Go and Enchanted April and Rob's review of Confessions of a MEXpatriate

Amelia Ampuero, John Hardy, and Ezra Colón
Paulina Salas (Amelia Ampuero) waits in a dark house and, when she hears the sound of a car in the driveway, takes a pistol and points it at the door. It's her attorney husband Gerardo Escobar (Ezra Colón), brought home at the end of the day by a Good Samaritan who helped with a flat tire.

We feel Salas's great relief as the other man leaves and she greets her husband, but we don't understand it. Gradually we learn that she has been tortured and raped under a recent regime in this unnamed country.

When the stranger Roberto Miranda (John Hardy) returns, Salas says she recognizes his voice, swears the man is the doctor who tortured her, and takes him hostage. His "trial" in her living room requires her husband to "defend" him.

Much was made of Mike Nichols's direction of Death and the Maiden upon its American premiere in 1992. Nichols saw it as the story of a marriage as much as the story of a country coming to grips with its recent past. His decision to let the domestic drama take the lead might or might not have pleased the playwright, Ariel Dorfman, but it left a lot of open questions. Can we trust the unhinged Salas? Is recognizing his voice sufficient proof that Miranda was the torturer? Is her assertion the only proof we have?

The play's direction determines whether or not those questions remain open at the end. As produced by Duke City Repertory Theatre and directed by Katie Becker Colón, Death and the Maiden is a political play, the characters representing the tortured (Salas), the torturers (Miranda), and the new government compromises meant to heal the country (Escobar, who will serve on the commission looking into the atrocities). The play is newly relevant in light of the American Civil Liberties Union's Torture Report.

However, it is in the emotions that the real story lies. As Glenn Close said in a New York Times preview of the play's American premiere, in which she played Salas: "But you can't act politics ... You can only act real people and real events, and that's what makes this play powerful: the reactions of these human beings in crisis."

When Miranda tells Escobar that Salas is disturbed and should be treated, Escobar replies, "You are her therapy, Doctor." The statement could imply that it doesn't matter who Miranda is; Salas needs to act out her trauma in order to overcome it, no matter who's tied up to the chair. But it is such a true statement in the context of treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder that it could sway you either way—does the doctor become Salas's therapy because he is the torturer, or is she projecting her present state of mind onto him?

Ironically, Handy's fine portrayal of Dr. Miranda left me in no doubt that he was the doctor who persecuted Salas. His voice and speech rhythms are so distinctive that I believed Salas from the start. Blindfolded, she would have fixated on that voice and, even 15 years later, be haunted by it. Other audience members felt differently. In the talk-back after the performance, a few said that all of the questions remained open at the end.

DCRT is always up for a challenge, as in this difficult play that starts their season. The company also pays attention to production values. Intriguing scenic design by D'Vaughn Agu allows for at least half a dozen set-ups within a small set, complemented by professional lighting design by Chesapeake Dalrymple. The intimacy of The Cell (how appropriate) allows us in.

Death and the Maiden, through October 18, 2015 at the The Cell Theatre, 700 1st St NW, Albuquerque. For tickets and information, call 505-797-7081 or visit

Photo: Courtesy of Duke City Repertory Theatre

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