Thriller to challenge cast and audience

Appearing in Peninsula Productions’ gritty thriller Death and the Maiden are (left to right) Ben Odberg, Lori Tych and Guy Fauchon.  - Contributed photo
Appearing in Peninsula Productions’ gritty thriller Death and the Maiden are (left to right) Ben Odberg, Lori Tych and Guy Fauchon.
— image credit: Contributed photo

Warning: don’t bring the kids.

The language will be very raw – and so will the emotions elicited by Peninsula Productions next presentation, Ariel Dorfman’s psychological thriller Death and the Maiden.

It’s further evidence that the Semiahmoo Peninsula audience has grown up enough to accept the power of decidedly adult theatre fare (like Peninsula’s Agnes of God and White Rock Players’ Club’s The Crucible) alongside the usual smorgasbord of comedies and mysteries. But it’s only fair to add that the powerful drama, directed by Wendy Bollard – presented in a four-performance-only run, March 5-8, 8 p.m. at Coast Capital Playhouse, 1532 Johnston Rd. – is not for the faint of heart.

Written by Chilean playwright Dorfman as his country returned to democracy after the brutal, fascistic excesses of the Pinochet regime, Death and the Maiden – featuring well-known local actors Lori Tych, Ben Odberg and Guy Fauchon – serves as a warning that the nightmares of the past may always be lurking just under the surface.

And it poses a question: if you were suddenly in a position to exact justice, and satisfy an understandable desire for revenge, would you find yourself replicating the brutality of your oppressors?

The production was originally announced for November at Semiahmoo Arts’ Centennial Park studio-gallery, but had to be postponed because of a family emergency.

Bollard acknowledges that Peninsula Productions’ decision to move the show to Coast Capital Playhouse has meant losing a limited seating, non-traditional theatre feel that would have recreated Dorfman’s original vision of presenting the three-actor psychological thriller in a very intimate space.

But the postponement has allowed director and actors to dig even deeper into characterization and motive, a paring-down process that matches Dorfman’s unrelenting dissection of moral values and the potential behaviour of the human animal, she said.

“I’m really working them hard,” she said, adding she has been thrilled, not only at keeping the cast together, but by her actors’ renewed willingness to explore the material.

“They were ready to jump in with both feet,” she added.

Paulina Salas (Tych), a married woman in a Latin American country – which, like Chile, has returned to democracy after years of dictatorship – harbours dark secrets. As a political prisoner, she had been raped and tortured, and her principal tormentor was a doctor who ‘experimented’ on her.

When her husband, Gerardo (Odberg), unexpectedly brings home Roberto (Fauchon), Paulina is convinced that their guest is actually the doctor who brutalized her physically and psychologically.

But is he? Gerardo isn’t sure – and when Paulina decides to take the law into her own hands, he finds himself cast as Roberto’s defender.

It’s just the beginning of a hall-of-mirrors scenario in which every assumption about the dramatic situation – including each audience member’s notion of right and wrong – will be challenged.

For Fauchon, returning to White Rock, where he grew up and participated in Earl Marriott and XEmpt Theatre productions before launching his professional career, it’s a perfect opportunity to showcase the powerful potential of smaller-venue theatre.

“It’s a tough show – but rich and rewarding,” he said, in an interview conducted during rehearsals in November.

While he wondered aloud whether, given the grimness of the subject matter, it was appropriate to say he’s enjoying himself, he can’t deny the thrill of a such an exercise in pure theatre.

“I’m having such a fun time,” he admitted, with a chuckle.

Fauchon said he’s also enjoying working with Bollard, whom he’s known for many years.

“Wendy’s a great director; she’s very subtly creative, and, without directing anything specifically, she opens up all these areas for exploration.”

The intensity of Death and the Maiden is palpable, he said.

“It can get very raw,” he added. “There’s never been more hugs and laughter after a rehearsal.”

One of the challenges of the show for the actors, Fauchon said, is preserving a degree of ambiguity that Dorfman has built into the script. And while he said he’s had to make a choice about Roberto “for my own purposes,” he trusts that there is plenty of scope for audiences to argue about their perception of the truth of the storyline.

“You’ll hear a line and you’ll say, wait a minute, didn’t the same character say something just the opposite two pages ago? Was that person lying then – or is that person lying now?”

Performances are at 8 p.m.

Tickets are available online at www.peninsulaproductions.org or at the box office, 604-536-7535.

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