Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Fiercely Blue

Carmen Aguirre is certainly one fierce woman. As a skinny twenty-year-old underground revolutionary in Pinochet's Chile she smuggled supplies across the Argentinian border in a Cessna plane she'd learned to pilot with her first husband. A decade or more later, as a now twice-divorced actor working in Vancouver, she pursued an amour fou with "Vision Man," an impossibly gorgeous younger Mexican actor from Hollywood who had a weak heart (in more ways than one).

In Blue Box, on at the Arts Club's Revue Stage through November 1, Aguirre tells both stories directly to the audience while alone on stage with the house lights up for 90 uninterrupted minutes. And she does so with an unapologetic frankness that can leave many in the audience squirming. That it is the sexual politics of the piece that make many spectators--especially men--uncomfortable is something Aguirre tackles in her very first line; as she tells us, explaining the show's title, she had wanted to call the play something else, but it would have been unmarketable. As it is, Blue Box will no doubt prove a tough sell for the Arts Club's traditional subscription patrons.

Because the piece is as complex in form as it is uncensored in content. As Aguirre writes in her Playwright's Note included in the program, the only thing the two stories have in common is that they happened to her, that they both live in her body. And, indeed, the narrative structure of their telling on stage is such that they always exist in counterpoint, but never meet. Aguirre, working with Nightswimming's Brian Quirt (who originally commissioned the piece) speaks quickly but precisely, flipping back and forth between each of her stories like a virtuoso jazz musician, a soloist capable of playing--and seamlessly alternating between--two different instruments. There are no technical and dramaturgical cues--no shifts in lighting, no notable shifts in Aguirre's body--to prime us for these switches, which happen with greater and greater rapidity as the evening progresses. Instead, we have to make the effort to listen carefully, to locate ourselves in the telling of each story, and to note the accommodations required (physical, emotional, and ideological) to be open and receptive to each.

It's hard work, because likely for most of us our previous theatrical training has taught us to attempt to resolve the tension between each story. Instead, Aguirre is asking us to live with--and within--their dynamic interplay. In so doing, we are forced not only to be alert and pay attention, but also, I would argue, to question which of the stories is more revolutionary, and which more romantic.


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