Death and the Maiden

This restrained interpretation impressively keeps play's moral and political ambiguities in focus, though the approach has a serious downside.

Paulina Salas - Thandie Newton
Gerardo Escobar - Tom Goodman-Hill
Roberto Miranda - Anthony Calf

In Jeremy Herrin’s scrupulous revival of Ariel Dorfman’s thriller “Death and the Maiden,” Tom Goodman-Hill, Anthony Calf and, in her stage debut, Thandie Newton all eschew overly emotional display. But while that impressively keeps the play’s moral and political ambiguities in focus, the approach has a serious downside: Restraint reveals the play’s contrivances.

Newton is Paulina, a woman who fifteen years ago survived systematic torture and rape at the hands of an unseen assailant. Goodman-Hill is Gerardo, the man who has loved and looked after her and who, as a human rights lawyer, has just been appointed to look into the human rights abuses of the (unnamed) previous political regime on behalf of those who died.

Gerardo accidentally meets Roberto Miranda (Anthony Calf), but when the latter comes to their house, a horrified Paulina ties him up, threatens him at gunpoint and sets up a “trial” because, she says, he was her torturer. The play then moves through a series of taut scenes fueled by arguments about Roberto’s guilt or innocence, the morality of revenge and the need for confession.

Popular on Variety

In the play’s U.K. premiere in 1991, the neatness of the plot oscillations was obscured by Juliet Stevenson in “Truly, Madly, Deeply” mode giving Paulina a huge range of emotional display. Newton, however, takes note of the fact that Paulina’s smartly thought-through plan is the action of a mind more coldly furious than frantic.

The problem facing Newton, however, is that her experience is solely cinematic. She relies on reacting rather than acting. Her pained sincerity is unquestionable, but she lacks the stagecraft to run scenes. That unbalances the proceedings, as the well-cast Goodman-Hill is forced into the position of dominating scenes in which he should be the one being manipulated.

Newton’s scenes with Calf come off better, largely because these scenes require less ambiguity from her character. With him tied to the chair and mostly gagged, it’s absolutely clear that she has the upper hand.

Dorfman is intent on switching sympathies right up to the carefully controlled final scene, which is well achieved on Peter McKintosh’s neatly designed wooden set. But despite Dorfman’s deftly opposed, still-pertinent political arguments around punishment, public and private reconciliation, there’s too little meat on the play’s schematic bones.

Death and the Maiden

Harold Pinter Theater, London; 796 seats; £49.50 $79 top

Production: A Creative Management and Prods., Lyndi Adler, ACT Prods. and Celia Atkin presentation of a play in one act by Ariel Dorfman. Directed by Jeremy Herrin.

Creative: Sets and costumes, Peter McKintosh; lighting, Neil Austin; sound, Fergus O'Hare; music, Stephen Warbeck; production stage manager, Jane Semark. Opened, reviewed Oct. 24, 2011. Running time 1 HOUR, 40 MIN.

Cast: Paulina Salas - Thandie Newton
Gerardo Escobar - Tom Goodman-Hill
Roberto Miranda - Anthony Calf

More Legit

  • Freestyle Love Supreme

    Watch Lin-Manuel Miranda and 'Freestyle Love Supreme' in Exclusive Clip From Sundance Documentary

    Before turning “Hamilton” and “In the Heights” into musical phenomenons, Lin-Manuel Miranda could have been found on stage, spouting off-the-cuff rhymes with his improv group, “Freestyle Love Supreme.” After performing across the globe, the troupe — founded 15 years ago by Miranda, his frequent collaborator Thomas Kail and emcee Anthony Veneziale — made its Broadway [...]

  • Ariana Grande 7 Rings

    Rodgers & Hammerstein Are Having a Moment Thanks to Ariana Grande, 'Oklahoma!'

    Jaws dropped when it was revealed that the late musical theater titans Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II were granted 90% of the songwriting royalties on “7 Rings,” Ariana Grande’s 2019 No. 1 hit. The dominant motif of Grande’s song is taken from “My Favorite Things,” the cornerstone of R&H’s 1959 musical “The Sound of [...]

  • A Soldiers Play review

    'A Soldier's Play': Theater Review

    Now, that’s what I call a play! Charles Fuller’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama “A Soldier’s Play,” now being revived on Broadway by Roundabout Theatre Company, packs plenty of dramatic tension into smoldering issues of racial justice and injustice, military honor and dishonor, and the solemn struggle to balance their harrowing demands on characters who are only [...]

  • Bess Wohl

    Listen: The Impossible Plays of Bess Wohl

    The playwright Bess Wohl is always chasing a wild idea — and she’s found that rather than scaring away her collaborators, it just makes them more eager. Listen to this week’s podcast below: “I started my career thinking, oh, I’ll just write a play that’s really easy to do,” Wohl said on the latest episode [...]

  • Roundabout Theatre Company: Three New Plays

    Roundabout Theatre's Off-Broadway Season Adds Three Shows From Female Playwrights

    Roundabout Theatre Company, led by artistic director and CEO Todd Haimes, announced Tuesday that three female-written plays will be added to the 2020-2021 Off-Broadway season. Sanaz Toossi’s “English” will make its world premiere in fall of 2020, while Lindsey Ferrentino’s “The Year to Come” and Anna Ziegler’s “The Wanderers” will make their New York debuts [...]

  • Gregg Smith, Dancer and Choreographer Assistant,

    Gregg Smith, Dancer and Choreographer Assistant, Dies at 73

    Gregg Smith, a dancer, casting director and assistant choreographer who had a long association with director Kenny Ortega, has died. He was 73. Smith died on Jan. 1. The industry veteran worked as a performer in the national touring company of the musical “Hair” and in a Los Angeles production of “Jesus Christ Superstar.” He [...]

  • Frozen review musical

    Warmth and Humor Pervade Pantages Production of 'Frozen' the Musical

    In 2013, Disney’s “Frozen” hit screens like a 100 mile-per-hour snowball, sparking a pop cultural phenomenon in which little girls and boys pranced about dressed in Anna and Elsa and Olaf costumes while belting aloud “Let It Go,” Elsa’s feminist anthemic response to ice powers rendering her a societal outcast. The animated movie won two [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content