‘Death and the Maiden’ will leave you breathless

Flora Diaz, Mickey Solis, and Mark Torres in “Death and the Maiden.” Photos by Nile Hawver/Nile Scott Shots

WELLESLEY – There’s no escaping the tension that builds steadily during the 100 minutes of “Death and the Maiden.”

It becomes even more pronounced since it’s performed in the intimate confines of the Sorensen Center at Babson College.

Theater-goers are right on top of the actors as they enter and interact in the black box theater, which for this production features audience members on parallel sides and a long rectangular, raised performance platform in the center.

The soothing sounds of waves lapping onshore near a remote beach cottage are the soundtrack as the action unfolds over a period of 36 hours.

The Commonwealth Shakespeare Company breaks away from The Bard with Ariel Dorfman’s 1990 drama, which takes place after a new democratic government has arisen from the ashes of an unnamed totalitarian dictatorship. Dorfman never mentions Chile, but it is usually understood that the Pinochet regime is what is being portrayed.

In the cottage is Paulina Salas (Flora Diaz), a woman in her late 30’s whom we can see after her entrance is fearful and suspicious of the car driving up to the home.

In the car is her husband, Gerardo Escobar (Mickey Solis), a lawyer in his mid-40’s who has just returned from a visit with the country’s new president, where he has been named to a commission assigned with investigating the crimes of the previous dictatorship.

After being sidetracked by a flat tire, a helpful Samaritan has picked him up when he lacked both a jack and a spare tire and delivered him to the home.

Emotionally, Paulina is a loose cannon on deck, and with good reasons. Fifteen years before when she was a political prisoner, she was raped and tortured while blindfolded. She never saw the face of her torturer, but there was a voice – a voice she would never forget, that of a doctor who was working with the men who tortured and raped her.

There is another part of the experience she would never forget – the soundtrack to her rape was Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden.”

Then comes the unexpected arrival a few hours later of Roberto Miranda (Mark Torres), the doctor who happened upon Gerardo and helped him.

He appears at first to be in sync with the aims of the new government but there is something in his voice and mannerisms that are disturbing, and that sets off a harrowing chain of events in which Miranda will be bound and gagged by Paulina, his life held in the balance.

As Gerardo, Solis, part of a fine cast in one of last year’s best dramas, Gloucester Stage’s “The Effect,” must balance his wife’s thirst for revenge with his lawyerly requirement that the evidence be strong and that the confession Paulina seeks be freely given.

Otherwise, he is no better than the regime whose hands were covered with blood.

He must also contend with the certainty that if their treatment of Miranda leaks out, he will be forced to resign his post. He moves between rage at Miranda for what he might have done to his wife to taking measures to save Miranda’s life.

Miranda, meanwhile, goes from a bewildered innocent who can’t understand his treatment to someone who may or may not be the perpetrator, willing to do anything in his means to escape Paulina’s judgment.

But Paulina is adamant that Miranda pay a steep price: At the very least a signed confession, at the very most…

CSC Artistic Director Steven Maler, who directs, and the fine cast won’t won’t allow you to take a deep breath as the dance of death plays itself out out in what Maler calls in his program note “’three people wrestling with the past … a past that affects every moment of the present.”

” “Death and the Maiden.” Written by Ariel Dorfman. Directed by Steven Maler; Clint Ramos, Scenic and Costume Designer; Jeff Adelberg, Lighting Designer; Arshan Gailus, Sound Designer. Performances through February 11 by Commonwealth Shakespeare Company in residence at Babson College, Sorenson Center for the Arts, Wellesley. commshakes.org

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