Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul

Death and the Maiden
Co-production of Gremlin Theatre and Torch Theatre Company

Also see Arthur's reviews of A Midsummer Night's Dream, Pippin, The Unsinkable Molly Brown, and God Girl

Stacia Rice and Craig Johnson
Two of the Twin Cities' most reliable theater companies, Gremlin Theatre and Torch Theater Company, recently joined forces to mount a terrific production of Death and the Maiden, Ariel Dorfman's play about the way we are forever changed by trauma, whether forgiveness is possible, and how we judge certainty.

This production, now closed, brought together a triad of three of our most talented actors. Stacia Rice, Artistic Director of Torch Theatre Company, and Peter Christian Hansen, Artistic Director of Gremlin Theatre, played the roles of married couple Gerardo and Paulina. Craig Johnson, whose bio includes many roles with both Torch and Gremlin, played the part of Dr. Roberto Acosta. The heat generated by the fiery performances and strife in the relationships among them was enough to warm the drafty Theatre Garage on a recent bitterly cold evening.

Death and the Maiden is set in an unidentified nation just emerging from years of dictatorship. Fifteen years before, Paulina had been held hostage by government forces, kept blindfolded, and subject to unspeakable torture. Since that time, she has lived with the ghosts of that trauma, married to lawyer Gerardo who strives to protect her fragile nerves while hoping she can put this past behind her. A fluke of fate brings Dr. Roberto Acosta into their home. When she hears him speak, Paulina is certain he is the doctor who oversaw the torture visited upon her. Though she never saw her tormentor, she is certain that she would never mistake his voice—certain enough to assault him in his sleep, bind him and seek justice on her terms.

The play is well crafted, building tension throughout as we try to anticipate which way the plot will turn, and keeping us uncertain as to whether or not Roberto is in fact guilty of the horrendous deeds cited by Paulina. The three performers, who have worked with one another often, brought their tremendous chemistry to the stage, making the questions being asked really matter.

Stacia Rice was a master of pent-up feelings that, once unleashed, are a force of nature. Watching her listen from the bedroom as her husband and the doctor engage in chatter in the next room, we saw her silently transform from the paranoid, unnerved Paulina we met in the first scene into a fiercely empowered woman who would not be denied her due. Stunning work!

Craig Johnson introduced Dr. Acosta as a well-bred good Samaritan whose presence is the happenstance result of giving assistance to Gerardo, stranded with a flat tire. With Roberto's suave demeanor and helpful nature, we thought it impossible that Paulina's accusations could be true. Yet, as the time passes, Johnson subtly laid seeds of doubt, and gve us cause to question whether he might be the torturer. Peter Christian Hansen's Gerardo was torn between these two forces, trying to keep himself above the fray, but ultimately being drawn in, and beaten down in the process.

The long stage at the Performance Garage was put to good use to establish a tastefully appointed living room and patio, the bright beach house a contrast to the grim events within. An aural backdrop of breaking surf and cawing gulls underscored the isolation of the setting. David Mann directed the play so that every word and glance carried meaning. I sat in rapt attention throughout, both wanting to know and dreading what might come next.

Marshalling together the talents of the Torch and Gremlin companies produced theatrical combustion. It is unfortunate that the production did not have a longer run and reach a wider audience. We can look forward to the future work of both companies, knowing that we can expect high caliber performances of work that touches upon the human experience.

Death and the Maiden ran January 30 - February 21, 2015 the Minneapolis Theatre Garage, 711 W. Franklin Avenue, Minneapolis, MN,

Written by Ariel Dorfman; Director: David Mann; Set Design: Michael Hoover; Costume Designer: Andrea Gross; Lighting Designer: Paul Epton; Sound Designer: C. Andrew Mayer; Technical Director: Carl Schoenborn; Stage manager: Sarah Bauer; House Management: Ryan Ceresnak; Torch Resident Stage Manager: Penny Laden; Assistant Stage Manager: Ethan Bjelland; Assistant Director: Anna Sundberg

Cast: Peter Christian Hansen (Gerardo), Craig Johnson (Roberto), Stacia Rice (Paulina)

Photo: Aaron Fenster

- Arthur Dorman

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