Ariel Dorfman’s Death and the Maiden at Kansas City Actors Theatre is both a riveting contemporary classic and an incredibly rare opportunity to see a non-British international play on a Kansas City stage. This Chilean play follows a one-time political prisoner who is convinced she recognizes the voice of a good Samaritan as that of her former torturer. Audience members will find themselves absorbed in the question—is it really him?
While firmly rooted in the specificities of Chile’s seventeen-year dictatorship under General Pinochet, this Olivier Award-winning play zeroes in on the societal and individual consequences of state-sponsored repression in a way that is, regrettably, still globally relevant. The domestic and international brutality of this Chilean regim brings to mind recent headlines, including the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi and Myanmar’s repression of the Rohingya people.
On September 11, 1973, the Chilean armed forces, led by General Augusto Pinochet, overthrew President Salvador Allende who, rather than surrender the presidency, took his own life inside the presidential palace. In order to safeguard its power from “enemies of the state,” General Pinochet’s regime began a brutal campaign of widespread repression against leftist individuals immediately following the coup.
The Chilean government has since reported that Pinochet’s seventeen-year dictatorship resulted in over 40,000 victims of political violence. About 3,095 of these victims were forcibly disappeared, killed, or died as a direct result of torture. An estimated 200,000 Chileans, including playwright Ariel Dorfman, went into exile, but Pinochet’s violent regime extended its reach abroad, even including a high-profile assassination in the United States.
While the Pinochet regime formally came to an end with the 1990 inauguration of President Patricio Aylwin, the transition to democracy was uneasy and gradual: Pinochet had ceded executive power but remained in command of the armed forces. Death and the Maiden takes place during the first few fearful months of democracy in Chile, revealing one nation’s dark history while at the same time giving voice to countless victims of political violence throughout human history.
If you’re excited to learn more and connect with the show before you see it, though you don’t need a detailed history to follow this gripping play, you might enjoy these articles and music:
- For an eyewitness account of Chile’s 1973 coup, check out Hugh O’Shaughnessy’s article on The Guardian.
- For more on Ariel Dorfman’s exile, check out this New York Times article published in 1988, two years before the dictatorship’s end and two years before Dorfman would write Death and the Maiden.
- Listen to Schubert’s string quartet that inspired Death and the Maiden’s title.
Come experience an intimate psychological thriller as Kansas City Actors Theatre presents Ariel Dorfman’s Death and the Maiden at Union Station’s H&R Block City Stage now through January 27th, with one more audience talk-back following the performance on January 25. For tickets, call the Central Ticket Office at 816-235-6222 or go to www.kcactors.org.
–Mary Allison Joseph (production photo by Brian Paulette)