On his way home from work, a lawyer named Gerardo Escobar has his car break down. A stranger, calling himself Dr. Miranda, happens by and helps him, driving him to his home.
When Miranda returns later that day, Escobar's wife, Paulina, hears his voice and believes he is the leader of a group of men who raped her while she was a political prisoner. She takes him captive and wants a confession, but her husband is not as sure as she is of Miranda's guilt. And takes up his defense.
Death and the Maiden (1990), written by Argentine-Chilean,American playwright Ariel Dorfman, is set in Chile, but as producer and actor Jeff Wax says, it could be a story told in any regime of oppressive government where individual liberties are set aside and horrible wrongs done to people on the other side from power.
The play — about to be presented as part of the Houston Equity Festival at Studio 101 of Spring Street Studios — is placed in a time of transition when a new, more open government has come in. That government is trying to balance moving forward with the unaddressed sins of the prior regime.
"It's the conflict of when a new government is trying to solve a problem but it doesn’t have enough ammunition," Wax says. "[Paulina] gets this opportunity that she never thought would happen. What happened destroyed her life. She was a woman who was going to be a doctor. And she was in medical school when she was abducted. She could never extricate herself from the demons from all of the trauma."
Wax, who plays the lawyer, is joined in the cast with Julitta Pourciau as Paulina and Sam Martinex as Dr. Roberto Miranda. He says he has always gravitated toward plays focusing on human rights violations, social injustice and those of social and political importance - the ones that ask weighty questions that may or may not be answered.
"In the play itself, Dorfman talks about his own life growing up in Chile and he was exiled and left Chile and came to the United States," Wax says. "He said that 'it wasn't until Chile returned to democracy in 1990 and I myself therefore returned to resettle there with my family after 17 years of exile that I finally understood how the story had to be told. My government was at the time and still is now as I write this living an uneasy transition to democracy with [General and former Chilean dictator Augusto] Pinochet no longer the president but still in command of the armed forces, still able to threaten another coup if people became unruly or more specifically if attempts were made to punish the human rights violations of the outgoing regime. '"
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Asked who should see this play, Wax says probably not the youngest children but otherwise anyone who wants to look at their community and the world.
"We all want to live in a country where we have freedom and we don't have to fear persecution. But when the center of power decides that some of us are dangerous or that we have information, they'll do anything at all costs to extract that information from us," Wax says.
"This could be all of us one day. All of us we feel like our lives are safe and then one day we could be arrested, we could be tortured, we could be accused of something we didn’t do. We could fall into the clutches of another country and lose what freedoms we have now. Anything is possible. So do you want to wait until that happens or what would you do if you found yourself in that situation?."
Performances are scheduled for August 23 through September 1 at 7 p.m. Monday, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturday and 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at Studio 101 at Spring Street Studios, 1824 Sprint Street. For tickets go to https://www.eventbrite.com/e/death-and-the-maiden-tickets-63525014027. $20.