KPBS AIRDATE: February 1, 2002
Truth is elusive, even illusory. Widely divergent perspectives can make husbands turn on wives and brothers battle sisters. So what happens in the case of oppression? How do individuals and countries react? What are the ramifications of action or inaction? Of compassion or revenge? Ideology or personal integrity? Two potent plays from diverse cultures pose tough questions to which there are no easy answers — and none are provided. Thousands of miles and several continents separate Tibet and Chile. And yet, Stone Soup Theatre Company’s debut production, “Death and the Maiden,” is a perfect companion piece to Asian American Repertory Theatre’s “Struggling Truths.” Each small company has taken on an enormous challenge, and both should be roundly applauded — for the effort and the outcome.
Ariel Dorfman’s troubling, disturbing 1991 drama, “Death and the Maiden,” is a tricky endeavor for experienced professionals, let alone a fledgling company composed of recent and current SDSU students. But Stone Soup has succeeded in drawing us deeply into the suspense, which is based in the reality of Chile’s post-dictatorship era of broken lives, truth commissions and vengeance. A woman evolves from timid victim to vindictive tigress — torn between a doctor and a lawyer: her affable rapist and her self-serving husband. While the men are inconsistent and at times unconvincing, Amy Peters soars as Paullina, showing depth, range and dynamic potential.
We’ve seen these same traits in actor Robert Dahey, who serves as the irresistible centerpiece of Peter Mellencamp’s “Struggling Truths” at AART. Dahey moves tantalizingly in and out of the action, by turns respecting and ignoring the fourth wall, serving as guide, commentator, provocateur and clever, comical philosopher, a Buddhist monk who both teaches and taunts. Though the play, like Dorfman’s tends toward the didactic, cramming in as much history as possible, director George Ye has effectively straddle the fantasy/reality duality of the piece, underscoring the ethereal elements with his beautifully evocative sound design. He moves a cast of 13 fairly smoothly through multiple characters and countless choppy scenes. It’s all yin and yang — Buddhist brother and Communist sister, an innocent, idealistic Dalai Lama and a determined, political Mao Zedong. Past vs. future. Tradition vs. change. Oppression vs. liberation. Ism vs. ism. They’re all “struggling Truths.” After both these plays, we’re left struggling with our own truths, our personal beliefs, which is a pretty invigorating place to be after a thought-provoking evening of theater.
©2002 Patté Productions Inc