Death and the Maiden

Theatre Vertigo at Theater! Theatre!, 3430 SE Belmont, 306-0870, Thurs-Sat 8 pm, Sun 7 pm, through June 26, $15

Of the works of political theater (of which there are mercifully few), Ariel Dorfman's Death and the Maiden ranks highly. It does not hammer us with any message but plunges us into a highly dramatic situation with no easy answers and no easy way out. We are left baffled and frustrated, and disturbed. In this way, Death and the Maiden mirrors real-life politics better than any "straight" play ever could.

Death occurs in an unnamed country with a dark history of oppression and torture. Paulina Escobar (Nanette Pettit) was once a political prisoner. She was blindfolded, tortured and raped repeatedly by her captors. The experience has traumatized her for life, and when her politically active husband, Gerardo (Tom Nabham) is visited by the good Dr. Miranda (Darius Pierce), who helped him fix a flat tire earlier in the day, Paulina's awful memories are brought back in a flood. Based entirely on his voice, she becomes convinced the doctor was one of her torturers from years before. She waits until he is asleep, then ties him up and holds him at gunpoint, forcing him, with the reluctant help of her husband, to confess his awful deeds.

But is Dr. Miranda actually guilty? And if he is, is it right for Paulina to turn the tables as she does, torturing him in her own way? As played by the Theatre Vertigo crew, it's hard to imagine that Dr. Miranda isn't guilty. During his "forced" confession scene, Pierce's emotional recall of the torturous events seems sincerely emotional and regretful. Later, faced with an impromptu execution, he will take it all back, but it's not very convincing. Meanwhile, Paulina's drastic actions should have a hint of logic behind them, but Pettit plays her as a wild-eyed lunatic, which disrupts us from rationally considering her actions as plausible. To her, Dr. Miranda simply is guilty, and based on Pierce's performance, we're inclined to agree. Thus, this production of Death is not the careful study in psychological nuance the play has the potential to be, but a straight-up suspense thriller: will she shoot the guy or won't she? JUSTIN WESCOAT SANDERS