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Natalie Alvarez, ed.: Fronteras Vivientes: Eight Latina/o Canadian Plays.


Fronteras Vivientes: Eight Latina/o Canadian Plays.

Toronto: Playwrights Canada Press, 2013. 460 pp.


Latina/o Canadian Theatre and Performance.

New Essays on Canadian Theatre, vol. 3. Toronto: Playwrights Canada Press, 2013.

268 pp.

The recent publication of two substantial volumes on Latina/o Canadian theatre marks one of the first concerted efforts to document, historicize, and critically locate practices and works of theatre and performance by, for, and about people of Latin American descent in Canada. Taken together, the scholarly essays in Latina/o Canadian Theatre and Performance (hereafter, LCTP) and the plays and contextualizing introductions in Fronteras Vivientes (FV) deftly weave varied themes including political exile, gendered violence, indigeneity, and environmental hazards of mining into the production histories of Latina/o Canadian theatre companies. The texts relate this theatre scene to Latin American migration to Canada and the emergence of second-generation Latina/o Canadian theatre artists.

Canada's population of Latina/o citizens numbers roughly 527,000 as of the 2006 Statistics Canada report on ethnic origins (FV vi). This national population possesses distinct traits from the already heterogeneous composition of US Latina/o communities. Canada's Latina/o population has been, and continues to be, marked by several successive 'waves' of immigration from the 1970s onward, as conflicts across Central and South America forced hundreds of thousands of people into exile. Among those who arrived in Canada were many theatre artists who desired to re-engage the methods and concepts that had animated their theatrical production in homelands from which they were now exiled. Yet the presence of these political refugees and economic migrants in Canada has deeply impacted their theatrical output with themes attending lives lived partly--or mostly--in Canada. One crucial contribution of this volume, then, is to blend these artists' ongoing production histories with present-day realities of Latina/o identity formation in Canada.

The anthologies grapple with a heterogeneous milieu and a series of questions: How might Canada's disparate Latina/o communities be interconnected? What does "Latinidad" or "Latina/o" mean in the Canadian context? To what extent is Canada's Latina/o population shaped by its proximity to that in the United States, and how does the Canadian context differ? A larger question that surfaces here relates to the place of Latina/o Canada in North American scholarship. Is Canada a "third term" that complicates US/Latin America dyads, as Rachel Adams suggests? How do Canadian and US bodies of scholarship differ on the subject of Latina/o theatre?

By virtue of its transnational collaborators, Latina/o Canadian Theatre and Performance demonstrates distinct lenses applied to both theatre and Latina/o studies in Canadian and US contexts, as well as those produced by scholars of diverse nationalities and locations. Natalie Alvarez's introductory essay addresses the implications of strategic naming, whereby some Canadian populations of Latin American descent have adopted the moniker "Latina/o" as a "gesture of diasporic belonging" that "strengthen[s] transnational connections in the hemisphere as Americans" (6). Further, the "denonym Latina/o is not fixed or static but, in transnational and transgeographic contexts, always contested, localized, and processual" (6). Nevertheless, as LCTP shows, several of the featured artists resist self-identification as Latina/o, demonstrating by their refusal that "Latina/o" is "a contested and densely polycultural category" (5).

LCTP addresses a range of activities, companies, and artists, comprising chapters on the following: Toronto-based Aluna Theatre's collaborations with Colombian performers; Victoria's PUENTE Theatre, founded by Lina de Guevara; the Alameda Theatre Company, founded by Marilo Nunez; the Imaginary Homelands project, which links Canadian and Colombian artists in explorations and enactments of the displacements and borderlands entailed in globalized migrant identities; and a complex of emerging Latina/o Canadian theatre companies in Toronto (including New Teatro, Teatro Crisalida, Double Double Performing Arts, the Apus Coop, and Teatro Libre). Given the varied compositions of Canada's Latin American-descended communities, the authors are tasked with balancing the local histories of theatrical production in Canada with Latin American contexts and theoretical frameworks. While Alicia Arrizon examines uses of comedy by Martha Chaves, a Honduran lesbian comedian, Ramon Rivera-Servera queries the place of "realism," and particularly the "hip hop real" expressed in dance, in Carmen Aguirre's Quepasa con la raza, ?eh?. Hugh Hazelton chronicles the fascinating career of Chilean-Quebecois theatre artist Alberto Kurapel, while Ric Knowles and Jessica Riley detail the transnational and "Pan-American" theatrical production, Aluna Theatre's Nohayquiensepa, and examine its use of intermediality to "produce [...] affective longing" and stage intercultural empathy (39-40).

Guillermo Verdecchia appears triply in the essay collection. Martha Nandorfy applies Boaventura de Sousa Santos's theory of "abyssal thinking" to worry the line separating Eurocentrism from discourses of the savage 'other' in Verdecchia's solo performance piece The Terrible But Incomplete Journals of John D. His dramatic output also receives a close reading, with attention to themes of psychic trauma and memory, in Pablo Ramnez's contribution, "Restaging, Reframing, Remembering: The Role of Collective Memory in Guillermo Verdecchia's Fronteras Americanas" Verdecchia himself contributes an essay on playwright Carmen Aguirre's oeuvre, which reveals the influence of Aguirre's political convictions on her dramatic writing.

Verdecchia's imprint on Latina/o Canadian theatre is substantial, and he is included as one of eight playwrights whose works are featured in Fronteras Vivientes. An updated version of Fronteras Americanas, with intriguing changes, is published for the first time in this collection. The other seven plays unfurl complex narratives of dictatorship, sexuality, violence, poverty, indigeneity, and migrant lives. Carmen Aguirre's Refugee Hotel tells the funny and frequently poignant stories of a group of Chilean exiles from the Pinochet dictatorship who meet and form relationships in Vancouver. Prometheus Bound According to Alberto Kurapel, the Guanaco Gaucho, written and originally enacted by Kurapel and his theatre company, reframes the Chilean dictatorship within the myth of Prometheus, employing an avant-garde pastiche of Spanish and French against scenes of violence and experimental aesthetic abstraction. Rosa Laborde's Leo also takes up the dictatorship, focusing upon three young Chileans whose lives are irrevocably altered by the 1973 coup, as they are forced to choose between pleasure and politics. Lina de Guevara's Journey to Mapu, the product of a collaboration with Floyd Favel, among others, describes the experiences of a young Chilean boy, Lautaro/Tato, as he discovers his Mapuche heritage and develops bonds with his Canadian First Nations neighbours.

Unlike the foregoing plays, which focus on questions of Chilean identity within and beyond Chile, Marilo Nunez's Three-Fingered Jack and the Legend of Joaquin Murieta revisits the popular legend of Murieta, a bandit figure who sought revenge for his wife's rape by a group of white prospectors during the Gold Rush. While Nunez is also a Chilean immigrant, her play is set in nineteenth-century California. Yet the play turns the legend on its head by adopting the perspective of Rosita, Murieta's wife. Gendered power dynamics also dominate Vfctor Gomez's play, Lizardboy, set in Colombia in the 1980s, in a Medellm dominated by drugs and violence. A victim of that violence, nine-year-old Hector Fernando learns to escape by building a fantasy world in which his father's beatings, and his own violent tendencies, blur into cartoonish scenes of fantasy but ultimately prove inescapable. Finally, Beatriz Pizano's Madre stages the story of a woman progressively overcome by Alzheimer's disease and her adopted daughter's attempts to connect with her between Canada and Colombia. Pizano employs evocative and lyrical staging techniques to depict Julia's decline into dementia and her attempts to reconnect with Angela, who has arrived from Toronto to help her mother, even as their relationship appears on the verge of unraveling.

Given the intimate nature of Canada's Latina/o theatre community--where nearly everyone represented in the two volumes seems to wear multiple 'hats' as founding members, artistic directors, producers, designers, and playwrights--the collection manages to provide a thoroughgoing exploration of individual biographies and production histories within transnational and "trans-indigenous" (FV 349) geopolitical contexts. One of the most important contributions of LCTP and FV is to tease out the production histories of companies like Aluna, PUENTE, and Alameda; this constitutes important path-breaking research.

These two texts successfully present us with a cross-section of Latina/o Canadian drama, theatre, and performance that does not simplify the historicity or heterogeneity of its contents. Rather, Fronteras Vivientes and Latina/o Canadian Theatre and Performance showcase a dynamic assortment of works that approach questions of history, trauma, identity, cultural difference, migration, and political ideology from diverse angles. The two volumes' respective essays and prefatory statements are written in clear and accessible prose and will be appropriate for readers and audiences from undergraduate (and perhaps advanced secondary students) to graduate students. The volumes form a complementary whole that successfully connects with the larger mandate of the series "New Essays on Canadian Theatre": to showcase the changes and continuities, as well as the aesthetic richness and political engagement, of contemporary theatre in Canada. In selecting a range of scholarly voices on the varied topics attending Latina/o Canadian theatre, editor Natalie Alvarez has made important inroads toward a hemispheric consideration of theatre and latinidad.
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Author:Zien, Katherine
Publication:Theatre Research in Canada
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 22, 2014
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