Panache Productions, Springfield, MA
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through November 23, 2014
by Phil O’Donoghue
Ariel Dorfman’s play “Death and the Maiden” is not an easy play to watch. Set in the aftermath of Chile's dictatorship rule in the 1990's, which included kidnappings and torture on a daily basis, Maiden is just one story about those abuses; but one story can be a harrowing experience.
Panache has gained a well-earned reputation for choosing plays that are challenging. Maiden is a complex play about Paulina, a victim of torture and interrogation. Her husband, Gerardo, works on a Human Rights Commission of the play’s unnamed country. The visitor, Roberto, is a seemingly innocuous man, eager to help, and is just as eager, if you believe him, to see his country’s past abuses made right.
When the play starts, Paulina seems to be a nervous, slightly scattered woman. Gerardo is solicitous to his wife, yet concerned that her frail condition will upset his career. When Paulina hears Roberto’s voice, her persona takes a sudden turn. She is stunned, shocked, and finally, determined. Paulina knocks Roberto out, ties him to a chair – and the play begins.
Believe it or not, there is a danger of the script being, what some critics of the original Broadway production referred to as, somewhat of a light play. There are lines where the audience nervously laughs, almost making the situation absurd. Thankfully, this community theatre's experienced director and cast walks that tightrope with ease. Marge Huba’s Paulina is overpowering in her rage and her need for vengeance. Hal Chernoff, as her husband, makes his character change into a weak, helpless onlooker – making his audience understand how a country can bend so easily under a forceful personality. Mark Ekenbarger, in the role of Roberto, shows a wide range of emotions. He is terrified at first, but ultimately almost contemptuous of Paulina. It is a fascinating standoff.
Kudos to Panache, its director, cast, and crew for undertaking this difficult production. It makes for an interesting and thought-provoking evening.