Even the briefest of chats with playwright / actor / novelist Carmen Aguirre can be a refreshing experience. “I do not write for personal catharsis,” she told me in an all-too-brief email exchange. “I haven’t been trying to tell my story. I have been telling stories.”
All her answers are like this: precise and taut, like a fine haiku.
...the deconstruction of conventional archetypes...
It’s likely that Blue Box, her new one-woman show, will be equally exact. A low tech, text based performance, Aguirre is offering audiences nothing more than a stool, a simple lighting plot and her own invigorating presence. It’s more than likely that this will be enough: to quote Gershwin, who could ask for anything more?
Aguirre’s recently published memoir, Something Fierce, was the way she and I were first introduced and since then I’ve continued to meet her through her distinctive body of work. Based in Vancouver, she’s had an enviable artistic career that has taken her across the hemisphere. Her plays – The Refugee Hotel, The Trigger - are works that have a similar theme: the deconstruction of conventional archetypes.
Her target in Blue Box is the Revolutionary, a figure which mainstream culture tends to present as either the noble hero or a mad extremist, depending on the politics of the presenter. But Aguirre wants to explore the more human elements of these figures. Her concern is the exploration between commitment to a political ideal and the influence of our baser human traits - vanity, terror, love.
...an exploration of “unconditional love through a lament”...
Moving from the mountains of Chile to the backlots of Hollywood, Blue Box takes two seemingly unrelated stories and uses each to illuminate the other. The piece will premiere as part of GCTC’s upcoming Undercurrents festival. First developed at the Banff Playwrights Colony, the piece is directed and dramaturged by Brian Quirt, artistic director of Nightswimming and one of Canada’s resident theatrical luminaries. Its thanks to Nightswimming that we have this current incarnation of the show; they gave Aguirre the commission and are currently producing Blue Box's national tour.
Aguirre has a beautiful description of the piece: as an exploration of “unconditional love through a lament”. Darkly comic, the genesis of the show came from her experiences as part of the Chilean underground in the 1980s which worked to topple the Pinochet regime. These experiences are explored in great detail in Something Fierce – but don’t come to Blue Box expecting an adaptation. “There’s certainly an intersection with the content of the book,” Aguirre told me. “But the way in which it is told is different. The play is a distilled, condensed examination of different cores.”
Despite being set against a highly charged political background, Aguirre is adamant that her work never be mistaken for a polemic. “I am not a political scientist, an academic or a historian,” she told me. “Therefore I would not nor could write a political tract.” These small details rarely stop most people from using art as a soapbox - but Aguirre seems to be wiser than most. “This is a subjective interpretation,” she wrote. “Events may or may not have happened the way I remember them.”
Blue Box isn’t the only worthwhile piece going on at GCTC. It’s the second year for the Undercurrents festival, whose mandate is to present theatre “below the mainstream”. Other experimental works include WeeTube 5400, a Vancouver production that takes its inspiration from the publically posted comments on YouTube; and Falling Open, a show by Lib Spry and Luna Allison that asks the question we’ve all been asking: what if your childhood doll could talk about everything she’s seen?
Blue Box runs from February 7 – 12 at the Great Canadian Theatre Company in Ottawa. The Undercurrents festival runs from February 7 – 19, 2012. Visit their website for more information.
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