Theater review: Rhubarb’s ‘Death and the Maiden’ Still Intrigues

Death and the MaidenWhen a society wakes from a totalitarian nightmare, is reconciliation or revenge the way to finally end the darkness? Productions of Death and the Maiden like the one Rhubarb Theater Company is now presenting have intriguingly explored that question for more than 20 years.

The Pinochet regime may have laid the historical groundwork for Chilean writer Ariel Dorfman’s 1990 play, but because dictatorships continue to rise and fall all over the world – with recent events in North Africa and the Middle East serving as contemporary examples – its story certainly remains relevant. And an able cast directed by Heather Webber does a fair job of making this show feel fresh.

Paulina Salas (Trish Crist) is quite jittery when she doesn’t see her husband’s car pull up to their well-appointed beachfront home, retrieving a gun and dousing the lights until her spouse Gerardo Escobar (Phil Brady) appears at the door. Her highly agitated state is understandable: Paulina still bears severe psychological scars from the torturous time she spent under arrest during the days when fascism held sway in her country (which goes unnamed in the play).

Gerardo has had a flat tire, and Dr. Roberto Miranda (Bakari J. King) has stopped to help him. Miranda later visits to return Gerardo’s spare and congratulate him on being named to a new fact-finding commission by the nation’s president. But hearing his voice triggers 15-year-old memories for Paulina that lead her to believe the doctor was one of her chief torturers. What follows is a suspenseful showdown where the boundary between justice and vengeance is definitely blurred.

When the play opened Thursday lines sometimes got lost in the tensions created onstage but the well-paced production’s interplay was nevertheless fairly good. The best moments for all three came after intermission as the personal fissures between Paulina and Gerardo – and the question of whether Miranda was truly guilty of being Paulina’s persecutor – are fleshed out.

The play’s set (which goes uncredited in the program), Leah Fincher’s lights and sound and a pre-performance slideshow by Jack E. Chambers aid in focusing this production, and with the well-established talents of those involved the somewhat uneven performances opening night will likely improve as the run progresses. Ultimately Rhubarb’s Death and the Maiden still plays like the 1824 Franz Schubert quartet composition that figures prominently in its story and title – dramatic and compelling, where death holds both terror and comfort.

Rhubarb Theater Company’s presentation of Death and the Maiden continues with performances today (Saturday, Aug. 25) at 7:30 p.m. in Darkhorse Theater (4610 Charlotte Ave.) and Friday, Aug. 31 at 7:30 p.m. in Belmont University’s Black Box Theater (1575 Compton Ave.). To reserve tickets ($12; pay-what-you-can ticket option on the Aug. 31 show, which is one of the First Night Honors events) or get more info call (615) 397-7820 or email rhubarbnashville@gmail.com.

*Image courtesy Rhubarb Theater Company.

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About Evans Donnell

Evans Donnell is the chief theater, film and opera critic as well as co-founder of ArtsNash. He wrote reviews and features about theater, opera and classical music for The Tennessean from 2002 to 2011. He was the theater, film and opera critic for ArtNowNashville.com from 2011 to 2012. Donnell has also contributed to The Sondheim Review, Back Stage, The City Paper (Nashville), the Nashville Banner, The (Bowling Green, Ky.) Daily News and several other publications since beginning his professional journalism career in 1985 with The Lebanon (Tenn.) Democrat. He was selected as a fellow for the 2004 National Critics Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, and for National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) arts journalism institutes for theater and musical theater at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism in 2006 and classical music and opera at the Columbia University School of Journalism in 2009. He has also been an actor (member of Actors Equity Association and SAG-AFTRA), founding and running AthensSouth Theatre from 1996 to 2001 and appearing in Milos Forman's "The People vs Larry Flynt" among other credits. Donnell is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association (www.americantheatrecritics.org).

Comments

  1. Warren Campbell says:

    The playwright’s moral suspense, so well portrayed by this extremely talented cast, was riveting and unrelenting. It is brilliantly directed by Heather Webber. This production, which poignantly explores a key socioethical issue of our time, is a “must see”. wbc