Review: El Retorno/I Return

by Lynn on May 11, 2017

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Theatre Centre, Toronto, Ont.

Written, directed and produced by Marilo Nuñez
Set and projections by Peter Riddihough
Costumes by Kelly Wolf
Sound by Michael Rinaldi
Choreography/movement by Olga Barrios
Cast: Alejandro Ampudia
Anita La Selva
Ximena Huizi
Augusto Bitter
Sofia Rodriguez

Note: Recently Canadian Stage in its Spotlight Australia program presented a circus/acrobatic rendering of the Ulysses story of his return home called: The Return (Il Ritorno). This week the Riser Project is presenting El Retorno/I Return which is a completely different show. A comedy of similar titles, indeed, but they are totally different.

A glimpse into the angst of exile from ones home country with emphasis on the problems of Chile that will have much resonance with a Chilean but might leave Canadians mystified.

The Story. From the program: “in 1979, a Chilean family, in political exile in Canada, travelled to Europe with their young children to prepare for The Return Plan, an international effort to topple the Pinochet dictatorship. El Retorno/I Return explores family, exile and revolution, and journeys into the heart of Latin American history.”

The Production. Jaime Fuenzalida, his wife and two daughters first come to Canada after fleeing Chile. Jaime had been arrested in Chile and questioned but miraculously was released and he and his family fled. Every time his wife Veronica asked what he said to be released, Jaime lowers his head in silence. This is brought up twice and the result is silence with Jaime avoiding the issue.

The whole cast is costumed in white-white shirt, pants, shoes, shorts, skirts. Perhaps this is to symbolize the family’s purity? Not sure.

There are two screens on the back wall, one stage left and one right onto which are projections/ animations. Over the course of a segment in this 70 minute show such titles as: Conquest, Imperialism, Independence, are projected and various animated figures (soldiers with weapons etc) are also projected on the two screens illustrating the title.

Director Marilo Nuñez moves her cast efficiently to establish the close relationships of this family and their closeness to Chinito, a friend of the daughters. There is vague reference in the script that something happened to him when he went back to Chile. The cast is totally committed and compelling in that commitment.

When the scene changes location from Chile to Canada to Europe there is a change in the projection. Sometimes it’s Salvadore Allende, or Che Guevara or Vladimir Lenin, or Karl Marx. (Thanks to Peter Riddihough for the informative note). The point is that if one is not familiar with what Allende looks like, or why pictures of Che Guevara and Lenin are shown in certain places, it adds a confusion that this play does not need.

Comment. Marilo Nuñez wanted to illuminate exile as experienced by many immigrants/refugees, including her own family. She also wanted to illuminate 500 years of history as it impacted Latin America, and mainly Chile, over half a century. She also says in her program note that she has been living with this play since she was six years old, when her family moved to Europe. I can appreciate how close Marilo Nuñez is to the story. And I’m sure for the Chileans in the audience when I saw the play it had deep resonance too. Here’s the problem, I’m a native Canadian. I don’t know most of the references in the projections or the references in the script. Who in Europe is creating this grand plan to return to Chile? How is the plan being formed? Why is the secret of Jaime’s release from his interrogation not revealed and explained? Are we to assume Chinito was killed? Why should we assume without information?

I know the intensions of writing this play are honourable. But I am disappointed that it’s not clearer in the actual writing. Nuñez strongly writes of the upheaval to families as they have to leave their country for safe haven elsewhere. I just wished she was as clear about the rest of her references and the history.

Presented by Why Not Theatre and the Theatre Centre

From: May 5, 2017.
Closes: May 13, 2017.
Cast: 5; 2 men, 3 women.
Running Time: 70 minutes.

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