Friday, January 10, 2014

Review: (Montreal) Blue Box (WildSide)

                                                                    Photo by Andrew Alexander
The Box that is not a "Box"
by Caitlin Murphy

Fitting for the Centaur Theatre's WildSide Festival, Carmen Aguirre opens her one-woman show Blue Box with a confession:  the show is actually called Blue Cunt. She went with the gentler euphemism, she tells us, for obvious promotional reasons. Rather like the experience the title describes though, the show, presented by Nightswimming, in association with Neworld Theatre, and directed by Brian Quirt, is a bit of an exercise in frustration.

There's no denying that Vancouver-based artist Aguirre has lived an incredible life; for starters, she spent a great deal of it fighting in the underground Chilean resistance in the 80's. Her book, Something Fierce: Memoirs of a Revolutionary Daughter, which chronicles her experiences, won the prestigious CBC Reads in 2012. Though the raw material of her life clearly makes for rich and compelling content, the container for Blue Box struggles to serve it.  

The 75-minute piece is a direct address to the audience, and essentially braids together two narratives – one focused on Aguirre's time working in the resistance, and the other chronicling an ill-fated long-distance romance in the late nineties and early oughts. She bounces back and forth between these two, along the way tackling themes of sexual desire, personal conviction, divorce, political injustice, and asking a few times “If not for love, then why?”  But the need to tell these stories in tandem never quite takes shape, and the piece's overall coherence suffers.

As a performer, Aguirre is casual, at ease, keen to interact with and provoke the audience. She's obviously at home on stage. But she's also vaguely detached from her own material, as though perhaps she's spent too much time with it. Her images appear painted with big brushstrokes, when they often call for fine lines. A repetitive cadence also sometimes gave the material an unrelenting feel.

Bits of staging, stabs at theatricality – involving audience members, descending set pieces, piped-in music – though offering variety, seemed to draw more attention to the staid nature of the piece rather than thwarting it.  That said, a dance sequence which seemed to magically solicit audience participation was a delight to watch, and the most inspired moment of the evening.

Watching Blue Box felt a bit like trying to read a lengthy text without paragraphs or punctuation. Words blur into each other, are given equal weight. Craving greater shape and definition, I was left wondering what the piece was wanting to do or be. The play's final moment, a confusing punchline, only added to my sense of this identity crisis.

I always wonder with popular touring productions if the impulse of creation doesn't get a bit lost or dulled with time on the road and amassing acclaim. I can't imagine it's easy to maintain the original urgency and vitality of the first opening night; I wonder if Blue Box's raison d'etre, its desired effect felt clearer then.

Blue Box is at Wildside to January 12
Read also Carmen Aguirre's first-person piece on her journey

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