"Death and the Maiden

Heartland Actors’ Repertory Theatre

Directed by Nick Carpenter

Through Nov. 11

Death and the Maiden is a very intense piece being performed by a new group of Equity actors who have dubbed themselves the Heartland Actors’ Repertory Theatre. For theater patrons, there are two major boons to HART shows: They are performed by top-notch actors and admission to performances is donation-only, so anyone can afford good theater.

Death and the Maiden makes good on these promises. While a donation of $15 is suggested, it is not required, and the quality of the performance is on par with any other that comes with a significantly higher price tag.

Lauren Morris-Bertram, Ben Tebbe and Michael Shelton tell the tale of three people in a country just coming off 17 years of a dictatorship. Tebbe, as Gerardo Escobar, is part of the fledgling democratic government that is trying to take steps to heal the country. His wife, Paulina, played by Morris-Bertram, still harbors deep paranoia, since she was raped and tortured under the previous regime. When Roberto Miranda (Shelton) gives Gerardo a lift home, Paulina is convinced Miranda is one of the men who tortured her and, disgusted with a system that is allowing war criminals to walk free, she decides to take justice into her own hands.

Director Nick Carpenter crafts a show that keeps audiences tightly strung, waiting to see what will happen. Is Miranda really the man who tortured Paulina? What is she going to do to him? Is she insane or justifiably vengeful?

Morris-Bertram has a lot to pull off here. While her character remains sympathetic, you still believe she could pull the trigger. Tebbe, as her husband, tries to remain as rational as possible. But Tebbe lets his breaking point hover at the surface, keeping the audience watchful for its appearance. Shelton goes from amiable new acquaintance to gagged hostage, and has to do a lot of pleading for his life in bare feet and boxer shorts. But he gets to run the gamut from sniveling to bursts of outrage.

In all, it’s a corker of a show.

Death and the Maiden runs through Nov. 11 at the Wheeler Arts Center, 1035 Sanders St. For information, call 317-578-5451.