Caminos Festival:-plays on identity;culture, language Reply

Review by Ellen S. Jaffe
Caminos Festival, now in its second year, took place at the Daniels Spectrum in Toronto, October 5-8th. Sponsored by Aluna Theatre, and this year in partnership with Native Earth Performing Arts, the Festival presents plays that are not only written and performed by Pan-American artists, but also deal with issues of identity, social justice, language, history, and other cultural/personal situations. (Last year, I reviewed Antigonas: Women’s Tribunal, the story of women whose relatives were “disappeared” in the ongoing civil war in Colombia, and also a Maori version of Othello.)

A dramatic on-stage moment

This year’s theme explored “performing intersections”.  These examined the “multitude of conversations on how we perceive our participation, individually and collectively, in the future of the hemisphere.” (Beatriz Pisano, Artistic Director of Aluna Theatre.) I attended on Sunday, Oct. 8, and saw three short plays that spoke eloquently to this theme, in exciting theatrical ways. The performance was followed by a discussion and delicious communal meal that enhanced the feeling of community, inclusiveness, awareness, and celebration that are the aims of the festival. Throughout the weekend, the presentations involved dance and physical acting as well as language, and were in both English and Spanish. There were also speakers and cabarets.
The first play on Sunday, La Cama Cosmica (The Cosmic Bed), by Nawi Moreno-Valverde, is a comic-serious romp for two actors, using sexuality to explore questions of identity, language, and the notion of “race.” The talented Moren-Valverde also acts in the play; his partner is Olivia Nicoloff, an excellent actress. The play was well-directed by Melissa Anne Fearon, with good pacing and interesting props and costumes.
Daughters of Lilith, created and performed by Dainty Smith, is very different in tone: dramatic and poignant. Smith does a wonderful job of making her words come to life, talking to her mother and all her “foremothers,” daughters of Lilith (Adam’s first wife), cast out of the garden. Dressed in white, she uses the prop of a large red-velvet rope symbolizing an umbilical cord. Trying to break away from her mother to find herself, she eventually finds her way back to her mother, wanting to learn from her about love and family. In this journey, she also wants to know herself: What do I want?.. A heart that can unclench… heal and love, not just survive… a mouth that doesn’t apologize. The play shows the hurt – and healing – of intergenerational, not only personal, trauma. Music, sound, and movement added to the work’s effectiveness; nuanced directing was by Ravyn Wyngs.
The theme of trauma, hurt, and healing continued in the third play, Opcion Multiple – Fragmento (Multiple Choice/Option – A Fragment). No author is listed for this ensemble piece; the directorwas Luis Rojos, and the cast included Elizabeth Yanez, Isela Martinez, Jeramyn Vidal, Daniela Arango, Yenny Varela, Lavinia Salinas, and Bahar Davoudi. They portray one woman and several aspects of her personality, and a doctor/therapist. In one amazing scene, the women move in a pattern, coming together and apart, and it is clear some terrible event is taking place – something that might split a person apart psychically as well as hurt her physically. In the following scene, these different personas talk with the doctor, showing their various, contrasting personalities; it seems that one might remember the event, while others do not. At the end, they reach out – for hope? Perhaps they, too, connect over the generations. The play is in Spanish; although I did not understand all the words, the emotions and story were clear, and not knowing the language helped me focus on the actors’ faces, movements, and tones of voice, as well as the haunting music by Rojos and Cesar Correa. There was also an excellent technical crew. (This was a “fragment” of a longer play, but worked on its own.)
If Caminos continues next year, “OAR” will highlight it in our coming events column.

(Apologies that my computer does not have Spanish accent marks).

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