People can die from an excessive dose of the truth. But if only the truth can set you free does one find a sort of freedom, a sort of release in death? A twisted drama that pushes the boundaries and comfort levels of the audience comes to the stage at The Audrey Herman Spotlighters Theatre as they continue into their 52nd season with Ariel Dorfman’s Death and the Maiden. Directed by Anthony Lane Hinkle, this dark and sinister story unearths a brutal past of a prisoner of war and the method in which she chooses to execute her own brand of justice in light of her country’s new democracy.
Director Anthony Lane Hinkle, doubling as the show’s Set Designer, takes us to a fairly modern location, though he may understate his intentions of being at the seaside. While the wicker furnishings and beige motif is simplistic it could also be indicative of any arid climate, particularly the opposite of the beach, leaning more toward a desert feel. Using Shubert’s Death and the Maiden throughout the piece is a particularly poignant and effective choice, however using the same short segment repetitively becomes extremely redundant very quickly. If this was an intentional choice to drive home the madness that Paulina experienced, I wish it was emphasized more. Sound Designer Brian Kehoe’s subtle use of waves crashing to the shore used in the beginning of the production are a delicate reminder of the show’s setting, the only true clue we have to being at the seaside.
Lighting Designer Kel Millionie does a superb job of balancing scenes in light and darkness. As a good portion of this play takes place at night his intimate knowledge of how to correctly light a scene to reflect ‘honest night’ is impressive. The use of the dual yellow floods, focused tightly through the window to create the effect of the car pulling into the driveway is a nice touch to round out his design work.
Missing from Hinkle’s direction is the suspenseful thrill that the text would otherwise indicate. Choosing to play the ‘binding scene’ in complete darkness does a disservice to the potential tension-building moment that occurs there. Many of the spine-tingling moments that could be building these notions of suspense are lost in the darkness, particularly when Paulina is creeping about in the living room in the opening scene.
The acting overall is mismatched. The story is Paulina’s to carry, but Kate Falcone falls short in this role. There is no dramatic build for her character despite the text indicating that she goes on quite the disturbing emotional journey, and Falcone defaults to a shrill and whiny approach to the text every time a moment of eruption occurs between her and one of the other characters.To Falcone’s credit she does find pockets of emotion whenever she has the gun held in Roberto’s face and leans in to him, delivering tersely spat shortly clipped one or two word lines.
Roberto (Mark C. Franceschini) also gives an uneven as performance; feeling mostly static in his situation. For a man bound and gagged to a chair for the better part of the show, he doesn’t really appear bothered by it. His character lacks emotional depth and he struggles to connect with the other characters during intense moments. Francheschini does, however, have a fully redeeming scene when he is finally released from his chair and begins to retell his version of ‘the confession.’ His presence at that moment is captivating and it is easy to be hanging on his every word as he eases through the unsettling details.
Gerardo (Steven Shriner) is the star of this production. Shriner is an exceptional performer filled with emotional energy that really gives the play its spark. Fiercely present in every scene he is constantly churning a sea of tumultuous feelings over in his mind, which then seeps down into his body and facial expressions; even his voice is rich and overflowing with emotional outbursts. Shriner’s portrayal of Gerardo achieves a fulfilling emotional depth, delivering stunning moments of tension by fully understanding pauses and dramatic delivery. His approach to the character exposes a very raw and vulnerable man caught in the middle of a very sticky and difficult situation. The compassion with which he pleads, the anger with which he erupts, the desperation that radiates through his lines makes his character stellar. Shriner carries the show on his shoulders and kept my attention for its duration.
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes, with one intermission.
Death and the Maiden plays through November 10, 2013 at The Audrey Herman Spotlighters Theatre— 817 North Saint Paul Street, in Baltimore, MD. For tickets call the box office at (410) 752-1225, or purchase them online.