Carmen Aguirre’s Blue Box: Passionate Performance, Uneven Story

Reviewed by Maja Stefanovska

Categories: Professional Theatre

Photograph by Barbara Gray

Carmen Aguirre doesn’t shy away form touchy or embarassing topics in her passionate monologue, Carmen Aguirre’s Blue Box. The show relays the seemingly disparate stories of Carmen’s distant past as a Chilean resistence fighter against the Pinochet regime and her longstanding affair with a Chicano” television star over a decade later. It’s an exercise in fearless bluntness, whose peppery language would make even the more open-minded blush. Unconiditonal love is at the core of both stories, though it’s Aguirre’s tales of Chile that really capture the audience and contain the emotional crux of the performance.

Aguirre has led an intriguing life, to say the least. She talks about living in constant fear  of death and torture and crossing the Chile-Argentinian border with illegal documents, as well as her passion for the Chicano “Vision Man” and of her experiences as a phone sex worker in East Hastings.

The performance would have moved more smoothly with fewer transitions between the story threads. Aguirre stands alone on stage with a beautifully simple set comprising a spotlight, a chair and a white sheet. Without help from props or much action, the onus is on the actress to pull everything off with her movements and voice. The transitions were jarring and sometmes needlessly broke up the flow of the performance. Just as the audience was getting into one story, another would start without warning, change of pace or voice, making the stories hard to follow at times.

It’s particularly hard to understand Agguire’s love for Vision Man, who sounds like a self-centered, naracissistic man-child who knows nothing other than how to suck dry those that would care for him, only to discard them in the end. To be fair, Aguirre acknowledges the insanity of her persuit and concludes that their roles of the giver and the taker are what consititute unconditional love.

And for a second it actually makes sense. After all, isn’t this the woman who also gave unconditional love to her country and a revolution she and her fellow fghters wanted to start? At 20, she gave everything up – any semblance of a normal life, marriage, human emotion – for something bigger than herself. Just as with Vision Man, this cause used her for its own purposes and left her stranded, fighing her demons alone. From the beginning, she has given of herself. Was there ever a chance the Vision Man story could have gone differently?

Yet, there was something off-putting about the show, which ends up with an uneven feel. You can understand why Aguirre would give everything up for Chile. Yes, your skin crawls in acknowledging her terror during those years, but her passion for that cause is unmistakable; you understand why she embarked on this mission and why she stayed in it for so long. Vision Man, on the other hand, fails to elicit any emotion other than annoyance. Yes, the two have mind-blowing sex once, but everyhing about his story after that pales compared to the Chile saga. I found myself wishing we could skip the Vision Man parts and continue exploring Aguirre’s days as a resistence fighter or even her stint as a phone-sex worker. That’s where the meat of her story – intellectual and emotional – lies.

Carmen Aguirre’s Blue Box is a well acted show that explores notions of unconditional love and, as Carmen says, “dives, no holds barred, right into two core stories that live within me.” The concept is interesting, but the transitions between the two main stories need to be smoothed out and the connection between the two established more clearly.

Carmen Aguirre’s Blue Box plays at the Great Canadian Theatre Company from January 15 – February 3, 2013

A Nightswimming production in association with Neworld Theatre

Written and performed by: Carmen Aguirre

Directed by: Brian Quirt

Production Designer: Itai Erdal

Sound designer and composer: Joelysa Pankanea

Stage Manager: Laurie Champagne

Wardrobe Consultant: Carmen Alatorre

Producer: Rupal Shah

Technial director and sound operator: Jon Carter

Assistant technial director and lighting operator: Darryl Bennett

Head of props and head scenic painter: Stephanie Dahmer

Head of wardrobe: Geneviève Ethier

Assistant technial director (studio): Sean Lamothe

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