Melbourne Theatre Company brings Chilean playwright Ariel Dorfman’s 1990 play, Death and the Maiden. to the Sumner.
The story centres around Paulina Salas who was a political prisoner in an unnamed Latin American country (but it is clear that Dorfman was isolating Chile under Pinochet’s regime) who had been raped by her captors. The horrific assaults were led by a sadistic doctor whose face she never saw. She is catapulted into a series of dire events when she believes she recognizes this doctors voice talking to her husband, Gerardo Escobar, at their beach house. Paulina must confront her demons when she believes she has found the rapist doctor, Roberto Miranda, who played Schubert’s Death and the Maiden during her incarceration, but is it Paulina’s paranoia or Roberto’s guilt that is unveiled at the end of the play. For Dorfman, this is a story about a tragedy that has no clear solution.
Actor Steve Mouzakis (Very Small Business, The Slap, Killing Time, Blue Heelers, The Secret life of Us) plays lawyer and Paulina’s husband, Gerardo Escobar and describes the play itself as gut wrenching and relentless. “However the rehearsal process was one of the most intimate and enjoyable I think I’ve ever been a part of. A wonderful, talented and committed group of people. Many tears were shed but just as many laughs as well.”
It has been 24 years since the play’s first staging and the biggest regret the playwright has is *”that humanity has not managed to learn from the past, that torture has not been abolished, that justice is so rarely served, that censorship prevails, that the hopes of a democratic revolution can be gutted and distorted and warped.”*
Mouzakis agrees and says the most powerful thing the play, and Dorfman, is saying is that we must confront and deal with the past if we are to have any kind of future. “Even if the result is not perfect or fair or in this case where there isn’t or can’t be some sort of absolute justice. Amazingly the play explores these issues both politically and personally.”
Mouzakis admits that he doesn’t necessarily have to admire a character to play him. “I actually prefer finding the flaws and complexities and getting “in” so to speak that way,” he says.
Death and the Maiden is a no holds barred actor’s workout. “All of the characters go through a tough mental and emotional journey,” Mouzakis says, ” but I think it’s Gerardo’s optimism that I admire that gets him through that both he, Paulina and the country have a better future in store.”
Multi award winning director (and currently Associate director at MTC) Leticia Cáceres is at the helm, and it was a fortuitous meet between Mouzakis and Cáceres that led to this current project. ” I had met Leticia who’s work I admired whilst doing The Cherry Orchard at MTC in 2013,” Mouzakis explains. “We both expressed an interest in someday working together. I was over the moon to hear it would be for this, especially knowing Leticia’s deep personal connection to the play and the historical events it depicts. I feel very privileged to be a part of it. ”
Greek-Australian Mouzakis has been an actor for 20 years, after graduating from the VCA, and has starred in numerous TV, film and theatre projects. He is grateful for his craft and grateful to be a working actor in a very fickle industry. For Mouzakis there have been a lot of satisfying projects over the years that he felt lucky to be a part of. “They become a part of you and you carry them with you. Particularly with theatre and film where you’re working so close with people you feel like family. That’s true of this just as it was with The Cherry Orchard back in 2013.”
Death and the Maiden is a story that happened yesterday, but it could well be today. Mouzakis guarantees that if you know the play you’ve never seen it like this. “Stripped back to its core elements and story. A ninety minute emotional, psychological rollercoaster thrill ride!”
The play also stars susie porter as Paulina Salas and Eugene Gilfedder as Roberto Miranda.
Death and the Maiden
July 18 – August 22