The National Arts Centre English Theatre presents
A NAC English Theatre/Go Diva Productions Inc.(Los Angeles)/Citadel Theatre (Edmonton) coproduction
By Gloria Montero
Starring Allegra Fulton
Directed by Peter Hinton
Set and Costume Design by Ken Garnhum
Lighting Design by Bonnie Beecher
Sound Design by Troy Slocum
Stage Manager Brian Scott
Assistant Stage Manager Helen Himsl
Production viewed January 20, 2007 7:30 pm
There was a lot done well here: the setting, first of all was wonderful. It served the production well, and it used Kalo’s art as a source, quite ingeniously; yet, I still wonder what the horror toboggan suspended over the stage was, and the dividing and rejoining table was somewhat enigmatic. Although costuming was pretty well dictated by the existing visual record, it was certainly right on, particularly the static cutout yellow dress used in the opening monologue. The soundscape, although occasionally manipulative and melodramatic, was otherwise quite effective, as was lighting. Properties such as the stylized skeletons, which are very prominent in Mexican culture, were done in Kahlo’s style, of course, and wittily used to bring a fun moment with Diego Rivera, Kahlo’s famous muralist husband to life. Hinton uses the whole stage,even with the crippled Kahlo as the only moving object, but sometimes it seems to be movement for the sake of movement — a common problem with a one-person show.
Great care is taken in the program to make it clear that Gloria Montero wrote this script for her daughter, Allegra Fulton, as a birthday present. I wonder if this situation falls into the category of gift horses: as I have often pointed out, there seems to be a great reluctance to send playwrights of name back to the drawing board. It is as if the script is sacred text. While Fulton gives a remarkable performance as Frida K., she did not have a remarkable script to work with, and therein lies the rub. Yes, she has the sense of a person here — a somewhat whiny crafty person who seems more interested in her suffering than in her art. It is the art that is interesting and will endure; the suffering is an inconvenience. Think of it: is art any more or less art because it was painted by foot or mouth than by hand? Putting the conditions of its creation into the mix makes it a curiosity, not better or worse art. As in: Coleridge wrote this poem when he was smoking dope, or I wrote this one when I had a cold. This script further labours under the false impression that it was a good idea to make this a one-woman show in which we have to listen to the main character recite the ugly details of her tough life. It very quickly becomes a one-note samba with very little humour or other relief. Yes, Frida Kahlo had a tough life, yes, she is a famous Mexican painter who lived the way she wanted to under the tighly prescribed limits of her disability, and yes, Selma Hayack did a far better job of telling the story on film with a huge cast and a huge budget. I know about telling a story with tough content and a tough ending, but gee whiz, guys, guess what: there is in Mexican literature a technique that can solve the problem: magic realism — or is that what the table trick was? — or a sense of humour or other actors — anything to keep this show from being so monotonic.
I was puzzled that much of the audience gave this production a standing ovation. I wonder if I was watching the same play. I wonder why it was not in the much more intimate Studio. I wonder what the Standing O. crowd will do when a truly engaging production comes along? tear off their clothes and sacrifice their young?
Once again, we have a one act play, granted a long one act play at about ninety minutes with no intermission, but still a one act play. What has happened to the genteel custom of a break for discussion and consideration and speculation? And a drink for that matter? The lobby income must be suffering this season. Is there some fear the audience would not stay around for a second act?