Death and the Maiden, Red Wolf Theatre Company, at Phoenix Ascending Theatre. In a newly democratic country, Gerardo Escobar has just been appointed chairman of the committee investigating the previous regime's atrocities. His duties begin sooner than anticipated, however, when his wife insists that Roberto, the stranger he's innocently invited to their home, is the "doctor" who brutally tortured her years earlier; she now demands an inquest of her own.
Playwright Ariel Dorfman asks, Where do we draw the line between justice and revenge? What mercy is due criminals, and what reparations are their victims owed? Can judges be too detached in assessing the magnitude of "civil rights violations"--a euphemism encompassing battery, rape, electrocution, dismemberment, and murder?
The Red Wolf Theatre Company gives these questions immediacy, driving home Dorfman's arguments with an unwavering intensity that sometimes verges on melodrama but never overwhelms us despite the troupe's shoebox-size space. As the ravaged Paulina Escobar, Susan Block is an excoriating Fury whose truthfulness we never doubt. Nor does Danne W. Taylor attempt to arouse our sympathies for the accused (though Roberto does explain how a fundamentally humane man can gradually be pushed to monstrous acts). And director David Tatosian, standing in for John Lucas in the role of Gerardo, articulates well the agonizing dilemma of the peacemaker, torn between lofty principles and his own emotions.
--Mary Shen Barnidge