War-centric staged reading explores Chilean Revolution

The Robert Sinclair Theater was the venue for Ariel Dorfman’s “Death and the Maiden” on Thursday Sept. 17. This was Geneseo’s first student-directed reading of the semester—directed by senior Isabella Dixon. Audience members got a poignant look on what effects the Chilean Revolution had on the citizens of Chile. Dorfman was born in Argentina in 1942, but moved to Chile with his wife in 1954. The play takes place in the time after the Chilean Revolution, which was instigated by Chief of the Chilean Army and General Augusto Pinochet. Before this was an unstoppable torrent of violence that allowed Pinochet to imprison, torture, rape and murder anyone that the army wanted to while the rest of the world turned a blind eye.

Junior Emily Bantelman acted as the narrator to help tell the story of Paulina Salas—played by senior Lea Pandoliano. Salas is a woman living in the aftermath of a military dictatorship in her country alongside her husband Gerardo Escobar, played by junior Brodie McPherson.

The play begins with Roberto Miranda—played by senior Dennis Caughlin—accompanying Salas’ husband home after helping him with a flat tire. He later returns and eventually spends the night at the married couples’ home, which causes Paulina’s internal conflicts to be brought to the surface. The rest of the performance followed Salas trying to resolve her own inner torment, a result of the torture she endured for 15 years while in captivity due to the dictatorship.

This play depicts how Chile was rebuilt back into a democracy, but how most problems have yet to be resolved. This theme is especially prevalent for people like Salas, who remain scarred by the torture she endured for over a decade.

For the cast—as well as the audience—the most difficult part of this play seemed to be the sensitive and traumatic subjects that were brought to light. A question and answer portion after the show allowed the audience to get some feedback from the actors, particularly as to how they were able to portray such complex subjects.

Pandoliano admitted that Salas was the toughest character for her to play, considering the unbelievably traumatic experience that she had been through. Caughlin—who played the Salas’ suspected abuser—explained how difficult it was to play the different layers of the character who was never formally declared Salas’ tormentor.

After the reading, an audience member asked how rehearsals went, considering the difficulty of the content and rerunning it over and over again. Dixon stated, “[It was hard] getting everyone to wrap their heads around what happened to [Salas] and thousands of others in this play and in the Chilean Revolution.”

This question provoked the follow-up question of why Dixon chose this sensitive play to direct for the fall semester. While reading “Death and the Maiden,” she said that she cried during the entire play because it had moved her so much, which influenced her to use it as a staged reading.

It was no surprise that the performance received a roaring applause both after the performance and after the talkback portion. All of the actors gave moving performances, portraying raw emotion and the multi-dimensionality of their characters. Bantelman flawlessly narrated the specified stage directions as chosen by Dixon.

“Death and the Maiden” was a fantastic and passionate performance and production throughout, evoking deep emotions for all.