Reviews by Ellen S. Jaffe
Oct. 13th, ‘16
The biannual RUTAS Panamericanas Festival, now in its third season, is an international performing arts festival featuring work from various countries in the Americas, often with indigenous and experimental themes. This year’s festival, sponsored by Aluna Theatre in partnership with Native Earth Performing Arts, also features a Maori production from New Zealand. Toronto is fortunate to host this event, which features dance and film as well as theatre. RUTAS Panamericanas Festival, including plays, dance, and film, runs to October 16 at the Daniels Spectrum, 565 Dundas St. East, Toronto. Following are reviews of two of the productions.
“SOL OTHELLO” by Te Rehia Theatre, Auckland, New Zealand, is a solo version of Othello, performed in Maori, Shakespearean English, and colloquial English. How can this work? Somehow, it does. The play was created by Regan Taylor, directed by Craig Geenty, and performed by the talented Maori actor Tainui Tukiwaho. He opens the evening with a traditional welcoming address in Maori, paying homage to the deities and the spirits of nature, ancestors, and land – both in New Zealand and Toronto. He explained the talk in English, and then gave a brief, humorous presentation on the relationship of Shakespeare to Maori legend and language. After demonstrating the 3 masks he would use (simulating traditional face-painting), removed his baseball cap, Niagara Falls sweatshirt, and, clad in T-shirt & trousers, created this unusual version of the original.
Unmasked, he portrayed Othello, who loved “not wisely but too well.” Putting on one mask, he became cunning, power-hungry Iago; with another, he was bumbling Roderigo. With the third mask, he turned into a sweetly haunting Desdemona, who communicated only by humming. Michael Cassio, Othello’s lieutenant, was an invisible character, addressed by the others. Tukiwaho used changes of voice and facial expression and broad physical acting to create the various characters and develop the plot. The emotional impact of the flowing Maori language was clear, and shifts into Shakespearean passages and occasional modern English worked well. The play was fast-paced, entertaining, and moving, capturing the spirit of the tragedy.
* * *
Cast members of “ANTIGONAS”
“ANTIGONAS: TRIBUNAL DE MUJERES” (ANTIGONAS: WOMEN’S TRIBUNAL) by Tramaluna Teatro, Bogota, Colombia, is a modern tragedy with political and human overtones. It is based on Sophocles’ Antigone (441 BCE), in which Antigone defies her uncle, the ruler Creon, and buries her brother, slain in war. Creon has condemned him, as a rebel, to lie on the battlefield, prey for carrion. In giving her brother a proper burial, Antigone appeals to a higher moral and divine law.
The Colombian play, directed and designed by Carlos E. Satizabal, tells the story of nine women who have all lost a relative – a son, a husband, a father – in the almost 60-year war between government and revolutionary forces. The women present their cases to an imaginary tribunal, telling how their loved ones were falsely charged by the government (so-called “false positives”), tortured, murdered, “disappeared.” Four of the women are professional actors, the rest are “warriors of peace,” women who have experienced these losses and are fighting for justice. One of these women, Luz Marina Bernal Parra, was a nominee for the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize, which was actually won by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos. (According to a study by Colombia’s National Centre for Historical Memory, 220,000 people have died in the conflict between 1958 and 2013, most of them civilians, and more than five million civilians have been forced from their homes.)
One by one, each woman tells her story, often through objects belonging to the person she lost – a shirt, a teddy bear, a picture. This makes the loss more poignant. She sings a song: a dirge, a love-song, a lullaby. The other women comfort and support her. They speak and sing in Spanish, with English titles shown above the stage; this works well; the Spanish language conveys emotion, enhanced by gesture and Wilson Pico’s dramatic choreography. One grim section, toward the end, shows how some of the men responsible for the brutality threatened a woman lawyer by sending her a mangled doll. And yet the play ends on a note of hope. Jaime Nino, Francesco Corbeletta, and Karen Liseth Roa (also one of the actors) designed striking lighting and visual effects, creating scenes from a prison to a garden. Nicolas Uribe’s music and Andrea Jaramillo’s drums added to the drama. In addition to Bernal and Roa, the cast included: Lucero Carmona Martinez, Maira Milena Lopez Severiche, Orceny Montanez Munoz, Fanny Palacios Romero, Maria Ubilerma Sanabria Lopez, Lina Marcela Tamara Valdes, and Angela Del Pilar Triana Gallego. This is an important play for our times, about empowerment, justice (and injustice), community, and love. I wish it could have a wider Canadian audience.