Rosa Laborde’s play about three young people caught up in the idealism of Allende’s Chile, in their love for each other, and in the horror of the Pinochet counter-revolution has its heart in all the right places. But everything about the Tarragon Theatre production now playing at the Firehall—from the writing and acting to the direction and design—is so literal, so earnest, so right-on-the-button, that that it leaves no room for the kind of imaginative empathy required of an audience for this kind of political theatre.
Told in flashback from the perspective of the title character (Salvatore Antonio) as he’s being tortured to death, the play follows him and his friends Rodrigo (Sergio Di Zio) and Isolda (Lesley Faulkner) chronologically from childhood, through the heady days leading up to the first democratically elected Marxist government in the Western hemisphere, to the terrible aftermath. Isolda and Roderigo are idealistic left-wingers attracted to each other by their politics and given to pronouncements like “poverty is very bad” and “if you tell the truth, change will happen.” Léo is apolitical, a poet and cynic. “I’ll shut my eyes and make love to the darkness” is more his style.
A couple of heavy-handed moments early in the play introduce us to key symbols. First, in a childhood game the three kids literally bury their deepest secrets. Then, Léo has a monologue about what sharp corners triangles have. By the middle of the play Isolda is cheating on Roderigo with Léo, and Léo is cheating on Isolda with Roderigo. Is it any wonder the revolution fails.
At times the lack of subtlety seems almost self-parodying. The bare stage is marked by a painted floor in the shape of—what else—a triangle, further emphasized by the blocking, which more often than not traces it out. When Léo sees the light and realizes that politics are more important than his petty bourgeois individual concerns, he says to the audience, “it is easier to be blind than to see.” Although all the play’s actions are mimed, a climactic execution is marked by the realistic sound of a gunshot. Richard Rose is a major Canadian director; why should he feel the need to bang his audience over the head.
The Allende revolution and the CIA-supported Pinochet putsch that crushed it are among the most significant political events of the past half-century. It’s important that they be remembered and that Canadian theatre encompass a global political consciousness that can reawaken and re-mobilize us to atrocities suffered and perpetrated in our own lifetimes. This just didn’t so it for me.