Blue Box is impressive on its own terms
By Carmen Aguirre. Directed by Brian Quirt. A Nightswimming production with Neworld Theatre presented by the Cultch. In the Vancity Culture Lab on Wednesday, May 2. Continues until May 12
Like the Chicano boyfriend that Carmen Aguirre describes in Blue Box, her new show comes in a very sexy package.
In this autobiographical solo piece, Aguirre draws on some of the same material she covers in her book Something Fierce: Memoirs of a Revolutionary Daughter. In Blue Box, we meet the lover she calls Vision Man because he first appeared to her in a vision supplied by her grandmother’s ghost. A couple of years later, when she meets the guy, she falls—hard—for the cinnamon-skinned L.A. actor. “His tongue is like a chocolate truffle,” she says, “and I wring every last drop out of it time after time.” Aguirre intercuts the story of this tempestuous relationship with the tale of her earlier life as an anti-Pinochet revolutionary living in Chile and Argentina in the ’80s.
Not only is Aguirre gorgeous in a full-featured way—her lips look like they’ve wrung the sweetness out of more than one truffle—she is an immensely confident performer who holds the stage in her casual, firm grip for an intermission-free 80 minutes. The feelings of calm and irony that emanate from her create tension with her material, which includes images and threats of torture as well as frank accounts of abandoned sex.
And there’s a clear, sophisticated intelligence at work here. The script is riddled with both serious and ironic political references: Aguirre the character finds Vision Man hot partly because of his analysis. She begins the description of a particularly steamy session with, “After discussing the plight of the Palestinians…”
Itai Erdal’s production design is elegantly minimalistic: Aguirre in light, Aguirre in front of a tall white screen. Brian Quirt’s direction is equally sparse and effective: repeated gestures provide leitmotifs.
So why wasn’t I completely satisfied? As the evening progressed, I bought into the content less and less. Aguirre’s script is about giving over to wild loves, both romantic and political. But giving over to Vision Man is clearly lunatic. Narcissistic to the point of being abusive, the guy’s a dink and, even though Aguirre essentially acknowledges, “Yeah, this is crazy,” I lost interest in the relationship. Similarly, you’ve got to buy into the young Aguirre’s revolutionary position on faith; the script gives us no specific sense of why she’s fighting the fight. And that narrative peters out. Both stories provide flashy fireworks, but they don’t provide deep access to the storyteller’s heart.
In Blue Box, a mature Aguirre is shaking her head, both marvelling and laughing at her younger selves. Observational detachment is one of the shadings of her confidence. Those are the terms that Blue Box sets and it’s impressive within them—even if those terms don’t quite fit mine.