Rating: 4.5/5 stars
On the penultimate Thursday, Friday, and Saturday of November in the basement of Alumni Hall, led by director William Dao, the St. Michael College Troubadours staged a praiseworthy performance of Wajdi Mouawad’s Pacamambo.
Dao’s Pacamambo left the audience with much to contemplate on the nature of death, as well as the role of narratives in shaping subjective reality.
The constraints imposed by last-minute stage changes did not stop the crew — being confined to a small classroom — from creating an immersive universe for the audience to inhabit for the next hour and a half.
Under these impositions, their creative considerations only seemed to grow, resulting in a hypnotic setting that departed from the distance created by the traditional stage. By positioning the audience around the performance, the former were invited to act as jury for the interrogation to come.
The story focuses on a young girl named Julie (Eiléanór O’Halloran) as she attempts to make sense of the death of her grandmother (Rachel Bannerman). At the request of her therapist (Ahlam Hassan), the child guides us through her trauma and we come to understand why she was found three weeks later looking over the dead body of her grandmother.
“Tell me your story,” her therapist urges — and more importantly, what in the world is Pacamambo?
Julie intently informs the audience that Pacamambo is the question and it is the answer; it is the land where everyone is everyone, the land of universal empathy.
As the faint lights fade into silence, chilling vocalists vested in white gowns flood the quiet room. The irfinal notes echo through the room to set the tone for the sombre realities that follow. From her very first lines, O’Halloran’s delivery captivates the viewer and she aptly manipulates the stage through her portrayal of a young child processing trauma. She flawlessly captures the convictions of childhood and draws the audience into a nostalgic attentiveness. They wait on her every breath out of sheer curiosity — what could the young, vulnerable, and sad possibly have to say about grief?
Grief, trauma, and a child’s unwillingness to let go of the past: Pacamambo is not for the faint of heart. To alleviate the audience from the deeply emotive plot, Julie’s dog (Joanne Perez) appears from time to time to break the fourth wall, eliciting a few chuckles from audience members, and providing the rest with a chance to catch their breath and remember that with death, there is still life.
These brief moments are quickly set aside as the audience come to face Julie’s encounter with Death (Olivia Regimbal, Amanda Gosio, and River Pereira), whose authority can be sensed in its every sentence and through its every glance. As Death speaks, no one dares make a sound. At last, Death arrives, and perhaps will inform us too, of our own mortality, leaving us more confused than Julie, who at least holds an answer.
Dao’s portrayal of the incoming of Death, as well as an individual’s attempt to derive meaning from the incomprehensible is most remarkable as it brutally projects the latter upon the audience.
Pacamambo beautifully overwhelms. Our senses meet a cacophony of movement upon a layer of hollow lamentation; everyone speaks, yet not a thought can be heard. Chaos and panic find harmony within the small space.
Despite the team’s perceived necessity to intervene on the original text around the topics of anti-Black racism and mythologized trauma, Dao and his cast navigate the limitations of exploration and provide a platform for the discourse surrounding colonization in the land acknowledgement before the performance.
Dao and the Troubadours offered a memorable representation of Pacamambo to remind the audience that the land of universal empathy can be here and now, and that kindness and compassion can be found even amid these incessant winter days.