Safe: Tragic Tale Of Abuse or Abuse Of A Tragedy?

A play based on two horrific cases of abduction and imprisonment of Austrian girls Elizabeth Fritzl and Natascha Kampusch is brave for anyone to achieve sensitively and intelligently. Safe’s attempt to tackle complex themes of abuse, power and enslavement in just over an hour and within the emotional and physical confines of stage play unfortunately ended up more unsettling than insightful.

Santiago Chile
Photo courtesy Daniela Valenzuela

Theatre group Teatro La Nacional’s latest work dramatises a day in the life of a woman who was kidnapped as a child, and has passed from childhood to enforced adulthood in the underground prison that she inhabits.

Santiago Chile
Photo courtesy Daniela Valenzuela

Her captor (Sergio Hernández) leads a double life as an Ambassador in the light of day and as a child abuser under the cover of darkness. The parallel of abuser-victim juxtaposed with power and society are made clear immediately, as he rips off a cartoon dog mask once he enters the underground cavern that is his privately controlled sphere. Her childlike innocence and trust in authority is contrasted with his perverse desires for omnipotence with no regard for individual rights and freedom.

Although the play successfully establishes themes of abuse of power between the have and have-nots, the wrestling-off of clothes is followed by a gratuitous simulated rape scene only five minutes in. This detracted from Hernández’s otherwise brilliant performance. Meanwhile, the ear piercing histrionics of our captive (María José Bello) to fight off the big bad wolf undid the subtleties of manipulation and added a distasteful telenovela flavour to a delicate recipe that was short on time and expertise.

While a child’s nightlight casts a dim glow over our victim in her bunker below, Hernandez’s maid and estranged son are having tea above.

Santiago Chile
Photo courtesy Daniela Valenzuela

The allegory of high society as abuser is hammered home in their tit-for-tat racist and classist judgments of others when the problem lies under their roof. The play closes with them accepting the wolf in sheep’s clothing rather than confronting their master for the greater good.

While Safe raised interesting points, it’s script and its oversimplifications and dramatisation ended up alienating rather than captivating the audience. It seemed to emulate hit Danish movie-cum-play Festen that pits human morality against social hypocrisy using high society’s refusal to acknowledge a child abusing businessman. Through a series of clever sound effects and narration methods, the hidden horrors and the wider implication haunt you long after you have been released from a traumatisingly tense piece of theatre.

Ended October, 2009
Teatro La Nacional
Cast: Sergio Hernández, Maria José Bello, Evelyn Ortiz y Sebastián Ibacache Directed by: Isidora Stevenson Luís Guenel
Teatro del Puente
Parque Forrestal
Metro Baquedano

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