Playwright: Ariel Dorfman
Cast: Claudia Wit, Mischa Aravena, Rod McTaggart
Director: Mel Aravena
Performed at The Pearl Company
Review by: Tom Mackan
The good news here, readers, is in the performances. The production has three quite superb actors. Claudia Wit is brilliant as the deeply troubled and profoundly betrayed woman, Paulina, teetering on the brink of calculated madness. Ms. Wit commanded the role, found and sustained her moments and played to an interior truth. Mischa Aravena has the confident and convincing command of the role of Paulina’s husband entrapped in a web of contradiction and grotesquery from which he must extract truth. He’s an accomplished actor, is Aravena, attractive in appearance and gifted in voice and delivery, able to use enviable economy in emotion. Rod McTaggart takes and shapes the role of Dr. Miranda into an insoluble problem and brings grim reality to an impossible situation with enviable skill, both mental and physical. Required much of the time to be mute, he used his bodily presence to admirable effect.
The Pearl Company space is a welcome addition to the list of venues partaking in Hamilton Fringe Festival this year. A small stage, the size of a the average suburban dining room, thrusts becomingly toward us from an upstage wall and its three sides feature seating on risers comprising about four tiers. It’s ideal for simple productions, small casts, and limited technical demands. “Death and the Maiden”, has only one of these components, a small cast. Director Mel Aravena and his creative team had to understand early on that this tight and tense 90 minute drama is quite beyond simple in its structure and for first rate delivery it will demand resources in design, and in the effects of lighting and sound. In the end, a lot of invention comes into play, and invention has not proved a good servant. We are required to suspend credibility too often. Effectiveness became a sometimes thing. Headlights of arriving cars at night were nicely accomplished with hand-held lamps from a dark corner. Not successful was the device chosen to allow us to grasp Paulina’s horrific trauma when she recognizes the man in the next room from his voice. We need to see this. Having her listening through a slightly open door does not help, especially with an actor as skilled and totally watchable as Claudia Wit. But the brave trouper that she is, she carries on. Direction and directorial choices are accountable. I think. “Death and the Maiden” rides and survives on tension. There’s a gun to help, but it’s a prop. The real suspense is through the actors, in particularly their voices. As small as is this venue, audibility must reach past the first row of seats. Important, indeed vital markers, of the plot and development are hard to grasp when projection drops or rises for dramatic effect. When the balance is off, look to the Director.
But bravo anyway, to a smart company of gifted actors and artists for bringing us this exquisite piece of contemporary drama. There’s plenty to absorb our attention in the interpretation of Ariel Dorfman’s exposure of the distortion of political power and its descent in the grim horror of torture and rape, of betrayal and the loss of the human dignity. In spite of my perception of its flaws, I unapologetically recommend it to Fringe goers. And the Pearl Company, dear readers, is such a welcoming and comfortable experience for us. Get out to this show, tell then I sent you.