BY SANDY STAGGS
Compelling performances and high-stakes drama propel the latest Fringe Series play at Centre Stage, “Death and the Maiden.”
This Olivier Award-winning work by Ariel Dorfman is set in an unnamed country that is, like the author’s native Chile, emerging from a totalitarian dictatorship.
Paulina Escobar (Beth Martin in a layered, bold and textured turn and her Centre Stage debut) is a traumatized woman, holed up in her isolated home near the coast. She drinks heavily and her marriage to Gerardo (Dave LaPage, star of the season opener “Is He Dead?”), a lawyer and civil rights activist who earlier that very day was appointed to head a commission investigating human rights abuses, is wrought with tension.
But a late-night visit by good Samaritan Dr. Roberto Miranda (played by Michael Hart) to the Escobar home escalates into a white-knuckled intellectual and emotional tug of war as Paulina takes the doctor hostage, convinced he was the man who tortured and raped her while she was imprisoned under the previous regime.
His voice, his scent and a cassette recording of Franz Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden” quartet in D minor, cements her suspicions as she attempts to convince her husband that this is the man that repeatedly raped her and tortured her with electrical shocks.
Hart, bearing an uncanny resemblance to Ben Kingsley, the Oscar-winning actor who co-starred with Sigourney Weaver in the 1994 film version directed by Roman Polanski, plays the doctor with swarthy sophistication and intelligence.
But it is LaPage who delivers the edgy, pinprick performance here, serving as both mediator and referee as his character, fearing the loss of his job and his wife as well as murder charges, strikes both the chords of justice and civility.
Is Paulina experiencing a PTSD episode? Is she just paranoid and mentally unstable? Or is the Miranda the sadist she claims? You will have to see this play to find out.
“Death and the Maiden” is directed by Greenville actor Aaron Brakefield (“The Explorers Club” at Centre Stage and “Urinetown: The Musical” at the Warehouse Theatre) in his first directing gig in the Upstate. His staging is clean and impactful, and he takes full advantage of the lofty set of “Intimate Apparel,” the MainStage production running through Saturday, July 1.
However, this production does have some odd lighting choices to signal time has passed, and a clever (albeit confusing) device at the end of Act One that left the audience perplexed about whether or not it was actually intermission. When the house lights go up, it’s half-time okay, regardless of what’s happening on stage.
This production also features Robert Fuson (recently in “Sister Act”) as Stage Manager.
Centre Stage is partnering with SC Hispanic Alliance during this production.
“Death and the Maiden” continues Wednesday, June 28 at 7 p.m. at Centre Stage, 501 River St. in Greenville. Tickets are $15 and $10. Call (864) 233-6733 or visit http://www.centrestage.org.
And stay after tonight’s show for “Pizza with a Purpose,” a short talk-back with the cast hosted by Yours Truly.