AMIGO'S BLUE GUITAR By Joan MacLeod Directed by Dennis Foon
In her haunting new play, Amigo’s Blue Guitar, Joan MacLeod breathes new life into the moribund body of Canadian political theatre. While most dramatists in the country have shied away from tackling political issues, MacLeod uses her tale of a Salvadoran refugee in Canada to expose the broader social aspects of his tragic situation. Like her last play, Toronto, Mississippi, which has been widely produced across Canada, Amigo’s Blue Guitar focuses on a Canadian family. But the new drama, currently onstage at Toronto's Tarragon Theatre, uses its family’s sponsorship of Elias,
superbly played by Guillermo Verdecchia, to create a window on the larger world of international issues. His arrival in their midst—and his story of what he and his friends have endured at the hands of El Salvador’s right-wing government—rouses them to a political and human awareness as effectively as the smashing of jackboots at the front door.
Elias’s would-be rescuers are an argumentative, close-knit foursome headed by Owen (David Fox), a divorced former Vietnam draft dodger who has become a fisherman on the British Columbia coast. Owen’s universitydropout son, Sander (Christopher Shore), decides to sponsor Elias, mainly because he hopes that it will bring some meaning into his own chaotic life. But Elias quickly alienates the abrasive and self-pitying Canadian, getting along much better with Owen’s amiable mother, Martha (Patricia Hamilton, in a winning performance), who is visiting from the United States. But it is Elias’s affair with Owen’s geology-student daughter, Callie (Brooke
Johnson), that finally—after a somewhat tedious first act—sets the main action rolling.
One day, after they make love, Callie draws from Elias the story of the torture he suffered in his homeland. Verdecchia’s quiet, meticulous description of the ordeal, in which his brother lost his life, creates theatre of exceptional power. Callie, much moved by his tale, later tells Elias that she loves him. But the Salvadoran responds bitterly that she loves only his story. The shrewd, unsentimental psychology of that moment is one of the trademarks of MacLeod’s work, in which political issues rarely cloud the complexities of individuals. The Toronto-based writer’s subtle, often funny and ultimately moving play stands as an eloquent indictment of tyranny—and a timely lesson on the value of freedom.
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