— Photos by Itai Erdal.
This is Jerry's review of the 2012 production at The Cultch.
When Carmen Aguirre’s book Something Fierce: Memoirs of a Revolutionary Daughter won CBC radio’s Canada Reads earlier this year, the whole country got to know what Aguirre’s theatre fans have known for a while—this woman is fierce. Aguirre came to Canada in 1973 with her leftist parents, refugees from Pinochet’s Chile. The memoir recounts how she moved back to South America as a teenager and engaged in a dangerous double life as a member of the Chilean resistance against Pinochet.
Aguirre’s play The Refugee Hotel tells the angry, painful story of Chilean political refugees in Vancouver, and her play The Trigger deals even more fiercely with an adolescent girl’s rape. That daughter of a revolutionary refugee family much like Aguirre’s own can’t feel sorry for herself because her horrible rape wasn’t as horrible as being tortured or disappeared by Pinochet’s fascists.
In Blue Box, produced by Toronto’s Nightswimming in conjunction with Vancouver’s Neworld Theatre, Aguirre stands alone for 80 minutes on a bare stage and tells the audience two intersecting stories. One is a comic tale of her obsessive romantic love, the other a chilling account of her years undercover in the Chilean resistance. Both are fierce in their own ways and more than a little discomfiting.
The opening minute of Blue Box lets us know that Aguirre is going to be blunt about her sexuality. And that she is. She goes on to describe the vision her dead grandmother sent her of the hunky Latino “Vision Man” she subsequently met, and the bizarre but sexually torrid and often funny on-again off-again relationship she had with him. Through a sequence of rapid segues, the other story flashes back to 1988 and the dangerous and scary but equally exhilarating life she led crossing back and forth from Argentina to Chile, fearing arrest and torture, committed to the revolution.
The play pivots on the fascinating contradictory impulses in this one person: the selfishness of sexual passion versus the selflessness of passionate revolutionary commitment. A good storyteller, Aguirre runs the full gamut of emotion. She’s also an excellent salsa dancer, which some of us in the front rows got to experience first-hand.
What I found uncomfortable—and that may be exactly the effect she’s aiming for—was the fierce candour of her confessions. Knowing the details of her revolutionary autobiography, I assume the Chilean stories are Aguirre’s own, not just fictions of a character called Carmen. So I also assume that the graphic sex stories are actually about her. And when she stands just a few feet away and describes the dance she does with Vision Man, that’s a lot of chili pepper for this gringo.