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Theatre review: SMC Troubadours’ Pacamambo

Pacamambo is not for the faint of heart but it appeals to the human need to process trauma

Theatre review: SMC Troubadours’ <i>Pacamambo</i>

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.

Theatre review: TCDS’ Art

Friendships are akin to art: they help fill the voids within us

Theatre review: TCDS’ <i>Art</i>

Rating: 3/5 stars

Last weekend, the Trinity College Dramatic Society (TCDS) performed Yasmina Reza’s award-winning play, Art. The play, set in Paris and written in French, premiered in 1994 and was quickly adapted and translated, before making its way across the Atlantic and onto Broadway in 1998.

Performed at Trinity College’s George Ignatieff Theatre, curator Liana Ernszt made a conscious effort to integrate the performance with a gallery of boundary-pushing student artwork, providing an altogether more interactive experience.

By presenting opportunities for more direct engagement, Ernszt encouraged audiences to step outside of their comfort zones and provided a more visceral account of the play’s major themes: drifting friendships, weak bonds, senses of taste, and identity. This challenged audiences to consider the value and purpose of art and greatly enhanced the communication of Reza’s message in art.

Art follows three friends, Serge (Ezera Beyene), Marc (Kody McCann), and Yvan (Brendan Rush), who’ve unwittingly grown apart and suddenly find their friendship under considerable tension. Catalyzing the end of their friendship is Serge’s wildly exorbitant purchase of a painting that, rather humorously, is just a completely white canvas with white lines.

Marc disparages the painting, and it is this disagreement in taste between Marc and Serge that forces Yvan in the middle. Naturally, this devolves into a no-holds-barred contest of mockery, cynicism, and disillusionment, ultimately spiralling out of control and into referendums on taste, character assassinations, and a pervasive mood of indifference. Just when it’s most important for them to pull together, they instead push themselves even further apart.

The play, directed by Ryan Falconer, brought out a unified and true-to-form communication of Reza’s Art. The production was well-orchestrated with timely, effective lighting and use of the stage to entwine the audience in an intimate affair of theatre and drama. The band, with Shreya Jha on keyboard and Mira Riselli on bass, helped execute seamless transitions of scenes, building and releasing tension to complement the mood of the cast.

The cast succeeded in captivating the audience by effectively conveying the emotional rifts between their characters. Beyene’s performance of Serge as an eccentric art connoisseur left the impression of a focused approach to his role, by projecting his emotions not impulsively but sincerely. This was nicely juxtaposed by McCann’s performance of Marc, whose condescending demeanour and language really broadcast a sort of austerity that reached beyond the confines of the stage and into the minds of the audience. This contrast worked especially well in heightening the tension between the two characters. Rush’s performance of Yvan was ambitious and intense, though certainly not lost because his character was the most difficult to portray. Rush successfully supported the unfolding interactions between Serge and Marc, which would unravel even more to crash down like a game of Jenga.

The more salient point in Art and the blank canvas is not the trivial senses of taste, but the understanding that friendships are to be nurtured and not taken for granted. As with anything that is abandoned or neglected, if we lose sight, we also stand to lose clarity and, ultimately, the confidence of our friendships.

Friends are a sort of artwork in themselves; like art, friends help us overcome times of adversity and suffering by making light of dark situations. They fill the voids within us to cure our emptiness.

Ultimately, I wish to congratulate Falconer and the TCDS on a great show and laud their commitment and passionate dedication to storytelling, art, and the audience.