UnoFest 2012 – Blue Box

2 06 2012
Carmen Aguirre

Carmen Aguirre in Blue Box.

Blue Box is an unapologetic story of and told with power.  Its narrative bathes in it, bemoans the loss of it, fights it and fears it—all in one captivating solo show.

Carmen Aguirre’s autobiographical monologue is a clever, sensual reflection of a life she so fully tried to give over to passion (politically and otherwise), only to wind up with stilted desire, denied pleasure and the defeating reality of edging near the brink of success only to be left hanging.  It’s a womanly take on blue balls, as the euphemism goes.

Over the course of 80 minutes, Aguirre intercuts her tale of obsessive (and unreturned) love for a younger actor with the decade she spent in South America fighting for a Chilean revolution that wasn’t.  In some moments, the endless back-and-forth between countries, characters and years is confusing—but the polarity of both vignettes is important to Aguirre’s layered perspective on control and certain vulnerability.

Where this works best?  In the contrast of two risky nights to remember: one in the late 80s where she lays awake with every bump in the night after an informant tracks her down, another, ten years later, when she beds her Chicano lover for the first time.  Both hunting stories are absorbing on their own but together they offer a stark tribute to the agony and ecstasy of living from your gut.

Aguirre herself is stunning to watch, full-featured in her splendour with a streak of wildness in her unruly waves and high cheekbones. As a performer, Aguirre has an unreal confidence.  Her salsa dancing—backed by great sound design—is gorgeous and she has no problem giving you real talk about her lover’s chocolate truffle tongue inches from your face.  Brian Quirt’s sharp direction is sparse but Aguirre delivers its subtlety with power in every gesture.  She has absolute comfort in total silence, adding weight or tension to key moments.  Her eye contact is as piercing as it is frequent and her command of language—its tricks and double entendre and quiet ironies—is the real magic of this piece.

But this confidence itself is where the narrative falls down a bit for me.  It’s incongruent with Aguirre’s almost-fanatical pursuit of her young lover, who is at best an unlikable douchebag.  As the show progresses, their relationship borders on abusive—yet Aguirre is still in it to win it, explaining that “when one is on an adventure, one must see it through to the end.”  I didn’t buy into this, even with the knowledge that I was watching a more mature Aguirre looking backwards.

But maybe that’s her point; Blue Box challenges the parameters of how far we can or should go for our beliefs and, in doing so, packs a punch unlike anything else at UnoFest this year.  If not for love, then why?  —Melanie Tromp Hoover

**One more show on Saturday, June 2 at 8:30 p.m. at the Metro Studio.  Tickets are $25.

UnoFest 2012 – Jake’s Gift

1 06 2012
Julia Mackey in Jake's Gift

Julia Mackey in Jake’s Gift.

Returning to Victoria for the fifth time in as many years, Jake’s Gift has truly become a modern classic for the city’s theatre-going crowd.  Surprising to probably nobody, Julia Mackey performs the piece as flawlessly today as she did during its premier at UnoFest in 2007.

Told over three days of the 60th Anniversary D-Day celebrations on Juno Beach, this solo show explores loss, regret and ultimate hopefulness through the war-time encounters of Jake, a reluctant veteran who has returned to Normandy for the first time in 60 years.  His stumble down memory lane is prompted by the poking and prodding of Isabelle, an ambitious and fiercely loyal ten-year-old living on the beach today.

Mackey—under the sharp direction of Dirk Van Stralen—flips between Jake and Isabelle with convincing grace and precision.  Her physicality with each character, particularly as an 80-year man with shaking hands and an endless sway, is as entirely believable as her French accent (though Jake’s Canadian prairie inflection might have a teensy New York twang to it).

At its tremendous heart, Jake’s Gift is a deceptively simple story; the content itself doesn’t bring anything particularly new to the tale of Canada’s participation in WWII.  Instead, it reframes the fable of war alongside its decidedly human core.  In an era where wars are largely fought by computers from airplanes—when the people caught in the fray are still very real but the soldiers rarely have to look them in the face—this charming, powerful story of humanity is a national treasure.

In one scene Jake says: “It means a lot that someone so young understands what we were trying to do.”  With almost 70 years between us and D-Day—and only a handful of WWII veterans still living—Canada is lucky to have Mackey’s incredible gift for storytelling. — Melanie Tromp Hoover

**Jake’s Gift plays Friday, June 1 and Saturday, June 2 at 6:30 p.m. at the Metro Theatre. Tickets are $18.

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