Amidst continuing U.S. debate over the use of torture and lingering allegations of war crimes directed toward the White House, multi-hyphenate Ami Dayan brings a new English translation of Latin poet, novelist and playwright Mario Benedetti’s “Pedro and the Captain” to the fourth annual Boulder Intl. Fringe Festival. Based on the scribe’s experiences and interviews with police, army officials and insurgents recalling the Uruguayan junta (1968-85), the story brings home the realities of torture while serving as an inspiration to those who would resist.
The struggle in Uruguay — between the Tupamaros, former university graduates who became an urban guerrilla force, and the military — is represented by prisoner protagonist Pedro (Aaron Jennejahn), and his interrogator antagonist, the Captain (Mark Read). Benedetti concentrates on torture’s physical manifestations and psychological dynamics in six tightly written, feverish scenes, while taking a page from the Greeks by leaving the acts of savagery offstage.
Head covered by a sack and hands tied in front of him, Pedro is thrown into a room where the Captain (a graduate of the School of the Americas torture academy in Fort Benning, Ga.) explains the rules to him: Silence is OK for the first session, but sooner or later everyone talks, depending how much abuse they’re willing to take; I can give you back your life, your wife, your child, your house; we know you know a lot of things; if you resist, we will rape your wife in front of you; if you cooperate, we will make it look like you did not cooperate to protect you from your comrades.
The commonality of torture throughout the world coupled with the intimacy of Benedetti’s language and the characters’ interrelationship make it impossible for the audience to avoid the drama’s personal implications as we consider how well we would hold up to beatings, finger nail removal and electrical burns.
Dayan’s bare-bones staging and make-up artist Chloe Cook’s impressive array of gory effects keep the focus on the threat and experience of pain. We suffer with Jennejahn’s stoic Pedro while marveling at his emotional resiliency. But the startling conclusion is somewhat dampened by the absence of a convincing psychological shift in Read’s cold and calculating Captain.
However, Democracy has returned to Uruguay and those who survived the “dirty war” and “disappearances” are now in power. One hopes such an outcome is possible elsewhere as well, where torture, suicides, plane crashes, automobile accidents and heart attacks are all too common for those who hold damning information or key votes.