Death of Innocence
Adapted by Geoffrey M. Stevens ’03
Produced by Joanna N. Leeds ’04, J. Paul Robert Ross ’03
Nov. 1—2, 7—9 at 8 p.m.; Nov. 9 at 4 p.m.
Adams Pool Theater
When Geoffrey M. Stevens ’03 first read “Death and the Maiden,” an award-winning play by Ariel Dorfman, he was underwhelmed. “I got the message but didn’t like the dialogue,” he says. “I wanted more action or tension. Something seemed missing.”
But when he saw Roman Polanski’s 1995 film adaptation of the play, starring Sigourney Weaver and Ben Kingsley, something clicked. “I really loved it. I liked the changes made to the script.”
Stevens’ adaptation of the play, opening tomorrow at the Adams Pool Theater, is a Dorfman-Polanski hybrid with a dash of Stevens’ own dialogue thrown in.
“I would say 70 percent of the play comes from the movie, 20 percent comes from the original play and that final 10 percent is mine,” Stevens explains.
Dorfman’s dramatic thriller, which won the prestigious Olivier Award for Play of the Year in 1991, is a three-person show about the violent confrontation between a rape victim and the man she believes is her attacker. Set in 1993 in a South American country resembling Chile—which Dorfman fled in 1973 after Augusto Pinochet came to power in a bloody coup—”Death and the Maiden” begins with Paulina Escobar (Carla M. Borras ’05) listening to the news that her husband Gerardo (Rupak Bhattacharya ’05) has been appointed head of a committee to investigate crimes against humanity perpetrated during the reign of the recently deposed dictator.
When Gerardo comes home with Dr. Roberto Miranda (Sergio Rafael ’05), a good samaritan who helped Gerardo when his car broke down, Paulina recognizes the doctor as her former tormentor. Soon, Miranda is tied in a chair and pleading to be released as Paulina brandishes a gun and attempts to force Miranda to confess.
“I accuse Dr. Roberto Miranda of raping Paulina Escobar on 14 separate occasions, each time playing Death and the Maiden,” Paulina begins her mock trial of the doctor. He denies involvement in her rape, while she claims that, though blindfolded while being tortured, she recognizes Miranda by his voice. Screaming, obscenities and tears soon follow as the audience tries to assess whether the doctor is guilty or not.
Although Stevens says he enjoyed reading Dorfman’s play, he thought it would be too forced on the stage. Luckily, Harvard connections helped Stevens get in touch with Rafael Yglesias, the screenwriter who adapted Dorfman’s script. Rafael’s son, Matthew G. Yglesias ’03, lived across the hall from Stevens as a first-year. “So I e-mailed him and he hooked me up with his dad,” Stevens says.
Rafael Yglesias sent him a copy of the screenplay, which Stevens says he liked considerably more than Dorfman’s original script. However, certain aspects of Yglesias’ screenplay would have been impossible to stage in the Adams Pool Theater, like the climactic final scene of the movie. So Stevens decided to mix-and-match parts of the film and play.
“Theater purists might not be ecstatic that I am basing it on the movie,” he says. But Stevens says that because Dorfman worked with Yglesias on the screenplay, “I feel better about it. I don’t feel like I am changing the original story.”
Stevens’ decision to move the drama from the screen to the stage is even more unusual given the lackluster critical reception of the film. The New York Times wrote that the screenplay “has the admonitory blatancy of a wagging finger.”
Another concern for Stevens is that neither the film nor the play were commercial successes. “Both the play and the movie have had a tough time finding an audience,” he says. “It’s hard to get mass appeal for an uncomfortable subject matter such as this.”
Yet, for Stevens, confronting the challenging content of his adaptation of “Death and the Maiden” is the whole point. “The audience can’t sit and be passive. As a viewer,” he says, “you are forced to pay attention.”