by Carmen Aguirre
Touchstone Theatre
Vancouver East Cultural Centre
February 2 - 12
604.280.3311 or

The Trigger is a knockout. Carmen Aguirre's new play about rape and its reverberations through a young woman's life, imaginatively directed by Katrina Dunn for Touchstone as part of this year's remarkable PuSh Festival, is intelligent, powerful, funny, horrific, theatrically stunning, and utterly free of victimology.

Aguirre narrates and, along with four other female performers, enacts the story of a character whose life seems to parallel her own, though she prefaces the play by saying, "The Trigger is a work of fiction." Carmen is a precocious, endearing young girl who grows up in Vancouver after her family emigrates from Pinochet's Chile. In 1981 she's a normal 13 year old whose adolescent curiosity about sex is expressed through the deep crush she has for Scott Baio on Happy Days. Then one unhappy day she and her 12 year old cousin go into the woods near their school where she's raped at gunpoint by a man whose face she doesn't see. The fragmented narrative moves chronologically backwards and forwards in Carmen's life from that point, and in another direction, too, as Aguirre alternately assumes the persona of the rapist in prison awaiting his first parole hearing, where Carmen will eventually come face to face with him for the first time.

As Aguirre tells us Carmen's story, a series of unforgettable images morphs across the stage.. One moment she's lying on her bed, dreamily making out with "Scott"--a melon she fondles and later will dance with under a swirling mirror ball--while his picture is projected on a sheet held up behind her by two actors. As she gets up to talk about going into the woods, the actors lift her mattress and hold it up behind her. On it are painted two trees, the woods, that frame her narrative. When she becomes the rapist in prison, she moves upstage behind a glass pane which she progressively paints as she speaks in his ominously amplified voice. The painted window becomes an eye, a cigarette burn, a black hole.

Some of the strongest images are created on a trapeze hanging stage left. It has two bars, one about three feet off the floor, the other about eight or ten feet. When Aguirre tells a story about Carmen as a young girl in Chile wearing her favourite long pink dress, one of the actors puts on the dress with a very long hiked up skirt. She climbs to the top bar of the trapeze while another actor sits on the bottom bar. Then she drops the skirt which falls over the actor at the bottom, obscuring all but her feet, which become the dancing feet of a 12 foot high woman. This is reminiscent of a brilliant device in The Black Rider, but hey, if you're gonna steal, steal from the best. Later, when Aguirre as Carmen describes being raped, an actor (Janna-Jo Scheunhage) hangs upside down on the trapeze, her legs spread apart almost horizontal, a brilliantly, horribly resonant image of rape as crucifixion..

Designer Daniele Guevara does lovely work, keeping her set mostly dark and gradually illuminating areas of the stage where the dreamlike images emerge. Dewi Minden's brooding music beautifully accents and counterpoints the action, played live by Minden herself and performers Courtenay Dobbie and Ajineen Sagal on violin, guitar, saxophone and percussion as they move about the stage. Every element of direction, performance, composition and design is first rate.

The severe trauma suffered by victims of rape is undeniable. But among the many remarkable elements of this play is Carmen's mid- and long-term response to her trauma. In the immediate aftermath she suffers pain, shock, shame, guilt, unsympathetic cops, and a father who insists she never talk about it again. But her intelligence and adolescent resilience enable her to make some sense of her experience and bounce back. The cops eventually become helpful, too. But most important to Carmen is the legacy of her Chilean family's radical politics. Something bad happened to her, yes, but it wasn't so horrible. Horrible is when you're tortured by Pinochet's fascists, or when someone you love is murdered or disappeared. She can't feel sorry for herself. It would be bourgeois. That strength takes her, and the audience, to a very healthy place in the end. The women celebrate their victory and I celebrate this marvelous show.

Jerry Wasserman







last updated: Saturday, February 5, 2005 8:25 PM
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