The Unplugging In VeniceMonday, October 29, 2012
“Voici mon secret. Il est très simple: on ne voit bien qu'avec le cœur. L'essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.”
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Le Petit Prince
On Wednesday the 17 of November my wife and I went to the opening production of Yvette Nolan’s The Unplugging at the Arts Club Theatre Company’s revue stage on Granville Island.
This play about a near future post-apocalyptic age in what could be our British Columbia is based on an Athabascan legend. In spite (because?) of the beautifully simple set by Drew Facey with sound design by Alison Jenkins that features Native Canadian chanting, a cross between what seemed to be women joined in by howling wolves transported me to a baroque theatre in Venice.
This is an unlikely mental transportation for me as I have never been to Venice.
It was only 12 years ago that I discovered the astonishing fact that to experience nostalgia I had to be away from the place I was feeling nostalgic for. It was 12 years ago that I had a show with some Argentine painter friends called Nostalgia.
Were I to be in Venice on a gondola on a bright sunny day surrounded by myriads of American tourists I might instantly feel nostalgia for Vancouver. With my penchant and love for taking photographs of the undraped female I might just approach some lovely signorina and say, “Would you pose undraped for me in my palazzo studio while holding an umbrella? I am feeling nostalgic for rain, mountains and green forests. And yes, I fell nostalgic for our Native Canadian culture which we overlook, ignore, and perhaps even consider with disdain.” Yvette Nolan’s play instantly took me to Venice because I knew that what I was watching would have been seen with wonder in such places as Venice, London or even in my native Buenos Aires. Here a play featuring Native Canadian culture is to be avoided. And yet I so fondly remember one of the best plays I have seen in my life to have been Kevin Loring’s Where the Blood Mixes a Vancouver Playhouse production I saw back in 2008.
It was today that driving home I noticed Celia Duthie and her British husband Nick Hunt having lunch at Max’s Delicatessen on Oak Street. I stopped and joined them. They are off to a 6 week trip to Europe. Nick Hunt told me, “In Britain I found Turner (J.M.W.) boring but not now and last year Celia and I went to a show featuring The Group of Seven in Britain that we thought was fabulous.” Mexicans call this malinchismo. Let me explain the origin of a deprecating epithet applied to the idea that only what is imported from abroad can be of quality.
Bernal Díaz del Castillo in his Historia Verdadera de la Conquista de La Nueva España mentions the appearance of La Malinche (as Mexicans call her and Doña Marina as Spaniards reverently call her) in April of 1519, when she was among twenty slave women given by the Chontal Maya of Potonchan in the present-day state of Tabasco to the triumphant Spaniards. According to Díaz, Malinche was the noble first-born child of the lord of Paynala near present-day Coatzacoalcos, then a "frontier" region between the Aztec Empire and the Maya states of the Yucatán Peninsula. In her youth, her father died and her mother remarried and bore a son. Now an inconvenient stepchild, the girl was sold or given to Maya slave-traders from Xicalango, a commercial town further south and east along the coast. Díaz claims Malinche's family faked her death by telling the townspeople that a recently deceased child of a slave was Malinche. At some point, she was given or sold again, and was taken to Potonchan, where she was ultimately given to the Spaniards.
|La Malinche, Ivette Hernández|
To this day Mexicans have a complex relationship with a woman they feel sold them out to the Spaniards. There are some, who to the contrary, think that as she was also the lover to Cortés, she was able to somewhat soften the effect of the Spanish conquest. The language and customs survived to the present day. The Aztecs noted such closeness between La Malinche and Cortés that they called them both by the epithet Malintzin. In the Mexico of today a malinchista is a person who prefers the foreign to the domestic. La Malinche fades into history in 1529 and or 1551, both dates given as her possible death.
When in my prequent trips to Mexico I notice Mexicans in the street, Mexicans in buses, Mexicans at the beach, Mexicans everywhere, and in spite of North Americans from the US and Canada asserting that Mexicans are a happy "fiesta" people I can always discern a look of sadness and tragedy in their faces. I saw this when I was attempting to photograph the lovely Ms Hernández as La Malinche (a bit of my Mexican nostalgia).
|Anton Lipovitsky & Pippa Mackie|
But let me stop here with all the above melancholy and go to the quick. I was ready to throw rotten tomatoes in this play. But not what you may be thinking. I located the Georgia Straight theatre critic, Colin Thomas. He was sitting near me and definitely within range. I was going to throw the tomatoes at him if his assertion that Anton Lipovetsky was a phenomenal young talent was not true. Indeed I had photographed him for the cover of the Straight’s Fall Arts Preview issue a few weeks back.
But Colin Thomas was safe. Anton Lipovetsky was perfect in the part of the young white man (in a case of reverse malinchismo) recruited to bring back the survival skill knowledge of the “natives” to help a community overcome living in an age suddenly without electricity.
Lipovetsky reminded me of a slightly older Petit Prince who might have, with his smile, charmed even a fox.