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BY MARTA BARBER
Special to The Herald

Not so long ago, a play about the interrogation tactics applied to individuals accused of placing bombs in public places would not have had the resonance such works have now acquired. Nor would pose such uncomfortable questions: Is torture acceptable when national security is at stake? Do suspects have rights? And what ``is'' torture anyway?

If questions such as these have set you thinking, run to see ``Ode to Torture,'' a new play by Ernesto García at Teatro en Miami. ``Ode,'' with which the theater celebrates its 10th anniversary, is a gripping, provoking work that will stir not only your emotions but also your deepest thoughts. Warning: Don't take the children. It is tough to watch.

An about-to-be-retired official of the Ministry of the Interior is given 24 hours to force two detainees to give him information about an explosion that is set to occur before nightfall. The detainees are accused of planting two bombs that have killed many innocent people. Ramiro (Jorge Hernandez) is reputedly the best ``interrogator'' there is. The suspects are Laura (Sandra Garcia) and Pablo (Leandro Peraza). The scenes take place in a nondescript room where doom filtrates gray, windowless walls.

Before Ramiro arrives, we've learned he's a happily married man with only one more day of service before he plans to go fishing. He's written ``the manual'' on torture, and the proceeds will help fund his retirement. ``Ode to Torture'' will be distributed among all police entering this field of work. Chapter by chapter, while we in the audience cringe, Ramiro tries to convince us that he is acting within the law.

Ernesto García directs, designs the sets and creates videos that add dimension to the play. While García often uses video projections in his work, none before those used in ``Ode to Torture'' have been so well adapted to the story line; they even offer some respite from the face-to-face confrontations. The interrogation sessions with Pablo are the more intense. The young man is a follower of a poet accused of masterminding the bombings. Pablo has been asked by Laura to come and meet the poet at a bookstore; now he is a jailed suspect. However, Pablo continues to declare his innocence as Ramiro and a guard (Alain Casalla), an illiterate who hopes to become the next Ramiro, continue the interrogation. Ramiro brings up a few writings critical of the government that Pablo has done for the local newspaper. Pablo may have not placed the bombs, but surely he's guilty of arousing the population to commit acts of violence. Isn't he?

Laura, on the other hand, uses that influence of her prominent family in her favor. Money and position serve her well.

All the actors deliver thoughtful performances, though sometimes they yell when they should merely raise their voices. Peraza stays true to the demands of Pablo's scenes. It is Hernandez, though, who rises to the top as the sadistic torturer. He is a despicable, albeit charismatic.

``I am only complying with the law,'' he says. ``I never had a doubt that I was doing my job under the law.''

``Ode to Torture'' derives its name from Beethoven's ``Ode to Joy.'' That Garcia finds a correlation with such a master work is evidence of the depth of his play. The intimacy of the black-box studio on Southwest Eighth Street where Teatro en Miami performs adds to the experience. A good English translation of the Spanish script is projected throughout the performance. This formidable work is for thinking theatergoers regardless of language or origin.
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IF YOU GO

What: Ode to Torture by Ernesto García, presented by Teatro en Miami
When: 8:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Where:2500 SW Eighth St., Miami
Cost: $20
Info: 305-551-7473; www.TeatroenMiami.org

 

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