Cotuit Center for the Arts presents “Death and the Maiden,” a play by Ariel Dorfman, March 19 to April 5 in the Black Box Theater. Performances are Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 PM and Sunday at 2 PM. Robert Bock directs.
Set in an unnamed country emerging from a totalitarian dictatorship, “Death and the Maiden” explores the aftereffects of repression on the hearts and souls of people who lived through the nightmare of persecution, terror, imprisonment, and death of loved ones.
Paulina Salas, played by Sara Sneed, is a former political prisoner who endured torture and rape years ago by a man who played Shubert’s string quartet No. 14 in D Minor (“Death and the Maiden”) while brutalizing her. She remains fearful, terrorized by what happened to her in the past.
Her husband, Gerardo Escobar, played by Steve Ross, is selected to head an investigation into past human rights abuses against thousands of dissidents under the previous regime. On the way home from a meeting with the president, he has a flat tire.
Dr. Roberto Miranda (John Williams) comes to Escobar’s aid and later stops at Escobars' to congratulate Gerardo on his appointment. Paulina overhears them speaking and is convinced that Miranda supervised her prison torture sessions.
She ties him to a chair and conducts her own interrogation, gun in hand. Escobar doesn't know whether to believe his distraught wife or his persuasive new friend. This white-knuckle thriller is a riveting intellectual and emotional tug of war.
Dorfman wrote the “Death and the Maiden” in Santiago, Chile in 1990. In a 2011 article in The Guardian, he recalled, “Returning to my country after 17 years in exile, I saw this work as my gift to its turbulent transition. The dictator was no longer in power, but his influence, his disciples, his corrupting shadow invaded every aspect of political life.”
Dorfman noted that, 20 years after the play was written, its drama is echoed in multiple countries around the world. It was “sobering to realize,” he wrote, “that humanity has not managed to learn from the past, that torture has not been abolished, that justice is so rarely served, that censorship prevails, that the hopes of a democratic revolution can be gutted and distorted and warped.”
Dorfman was born in Argentina, but lived with his family in the United States until 1954, when he turned 12. The family then relocated to Chile, where he attended and subsequently taught at the University of Chile and served as cultural advisor to the administration of Salvador Allende. He was forced into exile when Allende’s government was violently overthrown by the military coup that put Gen. Augusto Pinochet in power in 1973. Since the restoration of democracy in Chile in 1990, he has divided his time between Chile and the US.
“Death and the Maiden” his best-known play, premiered in London in 1991 and won the 1992 Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Play. It was adapted as a film by Roman Polanski in 1994, and an opera in 2008, with music composed by Jonas Forssell and libretto by Dorfman.
Tickets are $20, $15 for members. Cotuit Center for the Arts is at 4404 Route 28 in Cotuit. For more information, visit www.artsonthecape.org or call 508-428-0669.
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“Death and the Maiden”
Cotuit Center for the Arts, Black Box Theater, 4404 Route 28, Cotuit
March 19 to April 5, Thursday through Saturday, 7:30 PM; Sunday at 2 PM
$20, $15 for members