Death and the Maiden: Dorfman’s guide to Hell

If you live in London or are going to London between now and January, then you are lucky enough to be able to grab a ticket to the performance of Ariel Dorfman’s Death and the Maiden. Teh Guardian have done a wonderful review of this amazing play. Read it here.

I haven’t been lucky enough to see it live, but I have seen the Polanski film many times.  The film is different to the play in that an ending is created. If you are lucky enough to see the play then look away now, because the rest of this has spoilers. I’ll add a You Tube video of part of the final scene below. Again, if you intend to watch the film, don’t watch this video because it will ruin it for you.

The story is a famous one, been done in different ways many times. The first version i ever heard was of a husband and wife out together. She is recovering from a horrific rape and he is walking her around for the first time. As they walk, she screams and points to a man in the crowd. She cries out that he is her rapist. The husband, filled with venom and rage, chases the man through the streets and eventually catches him and beats his head in with a rock. With blood dripping off his hands he returns to his cowering wife who points at a man near by and screams “That’s him – he’s the one!”

It’s the question of who do you belive?

Polanski makes it all a little easier on us by giving us the answer. Dorfman keeps it from us. The thing I love about the Polanski version (and I don’t know if this is in the play or not) is the complex relationship between Pauline and Gerardo. She was tortured because she protected her husband, a freedom fighter she assumed was living in fear for his life. As she was being tortured, he had in fact been taken to another country, and to his freedom, where he had an affair assuming his wife to be dead. We meet the couple years later, living in a democracy, but without their freedom. Each is tied to the other in a dramatic relationship shrouded in guilt and obligation.  Pauline has been driven, if not to madness, then to extreme cynicism by her ordeal. Gerardo is with her, in their gothic house on the cliff edge, living in the isolated terror of each others internal lives.

Imagine, into this scenario, steps a stranger Pauline claims to be the Doctor who raped and tortured her while playing her ‘Death and Maiden’ in order to sooth her. It’s not just Pauline’s feelings we are dealing with here, but Gerardo’s complicated responses to staring at a man his wife claims is the evil Doctor she has spoken so much about. Pauline was blindfolded through her ordeal, but there are things she remembers. The film unfolds as we are pulled to and fro with Gerardo as he believes his wife, then the Doctor’s protestations of innocence, then his wife and so forth.

If you have a chance to see this play in London, the Gardian claims it’s a very good version.  I’d run, don’t walk if I were you.