NUTS Presents "Death and the Maiden" - An Interview with the Director

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At the opening of NUTS’ anticipated production of Death and the Maiden, Woroni had the chance to pick the mind of director, Sammy Moynihan.

What’s your background in theatre and directing?

I am a somewhat familiar face in Canberra’s theatre scene, having been involved in theatre in various capacities since high school. I performed in various local productions and have directed pieces for Tempo Theatre, Canberra Youth Theatre and my own short-lived company, Deviant Theatre. I was also an associate director for CYT in 2013. I currently work for Mind Blank, a mental health organisation that uses forum theatre to engage teenagers and children in conversations about anxiety, bullying and self-care. I have really enjoyed my time with NUTS and am excited about any group that encourages experimentation, creativity and harnessing the voices of young people.

What drew you to this play? Why did you pick it?

We are increasingly being confronted with issues of global conflict on the news, on Facebook, and in our everyday lives, to the point that we’ve been desensitised by it. I often see people discussing the injustice and political upheaval that takes place internationally in a rather cold, statistical way. It is easy to detach from these issues and forget about the individuals that go through them.  The thing I found remarkable about this piece is the way that [writer, Ariel] Dorfman captures a complex political issue – in this case, a revolution after a dictatorship – and turns it into a very intimate tale about humans trying to rebuild their lives. He explores the notion of a revolution in a deeply personal sense, and deals with characters trying to understand the past in a nation desperately looking to the future. It’s almost like a war between individual justice and justice on a wider, more socio-political level. I also responded to the beautifully realised characters and Dorfman’s blatant refusal to give the audience any easy answers.

Death and the Maiden is a very complex and intense play psychologically – what are you hoping the audience will get out of the production?

The power of theatre lies in the conversations it inspires. There is a real thirst for social change amongst ANU students and I really wanted to interact with that and explore it further. The deliberately ambiguous way that the events unfold, lend themselves to many audience-driven discussions. I suspect that a lot of people will be arguing over drinks after viewing the play.

Death and the Maiden is originally set in a South American country soon after the demise of a dictatorial regime in the early 1990s. For your interpretation, are you connecting with this context?

While the play is inspired by events in Chile, the themes and characters are so relevant and easily identifiable, that Dorfman encourages people to adapt the play in a variety of cultural contexts. Ultimately, the play is set in any country that is uncertain about their identity and future. In this sense, I viewed the play as being set on a blank canvas waiting to be painted on. This is very much reflected in our set design and avoidance of culture-specific tropes.

What can you tell us about the cast and the characters they portray?

The play follows Paulina (Georgia-Cate Westcott) and Gerardo (Regis Heijnekamp) as they attempt to rebuild their lives following a revolution. Paulina in particular is quite damaged, as she had undergone a lot of torture from the previous regime. While she tries to be hopeful about her future, she cannot let go of her torturous past. When Gerardo’s car breaks down, he is assisted by Doctor Roberto Miranda (Daniel Greiss) who later visits the couple at their house. Paulina believes she recognizes the doctor’s voice and is convinced that he was the person who tortured her. So begins a thrilling game of cat and mouse, with Paulina capturing the doctor and insisting they put him on trial.

Without giving too much away, what parts of the play are you most excited to share with the audience?

As well as the three actors, I worked with a string quartet, led by our musical director, Enrica Wong. Some of the music is taken from Schubert’s long-form composition Death and the Maiden and some of it has been originally composed by Enrica. The music is quite beautiful and haunting, so I am looking forward to sharing that with the audience.

NUTS Presents: Death and the Maiden will appear at the ANU Drama Lab from October 5-8. Tickets are available online at trybooking.com.