Sunday, February 3, 2013
EVERY LETTER COUNTS
Special to TorSun
03 FEB 2013
Pictured: Earl Pastko, Nina Lee Aquino, Jon de Leon
In the wake of the sacking of Factory Theatre's founder and long-time artistic director Ken Gass and his subsequent brawl with the board of directors, new hands are now at the helm of of the venerable theatre. Their mission? To steer the good ship Factory, badly damaged by the storm of controversy that followed Gass's dismissal, into calmer waters where it can find safe anchor to rebuild its reputation as a showcase for Canadian creativity.
And while Nigel Shawn Williams and Nina Lee Aquino have shown tremendous courage in stepping in as interim artistic directors charged with finding that safe harbour — or at least keeping things afloat 'til someone else is named to the position — it could be a rough ride, judging from their first endeavour. To put the best possible face on it, about the best thing that can be said of their first collaboration is that they've left themselves plenty of room for improvement.
Factory's shortened season opened Thursday with the world première of EVERY LETTER COUNTS, Aquino's very personal exploration of a brief childhood encounter with her paternal uncle, Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino, a Filipino politician and activist whose assassination may have led to the fall of the regime of President Ferdinand Marcos. Courageous and charismatic, her uncle's life and death offers a motherlode of dramatic possibility — but what makes it to the stage, despite Williams heroic attempts at directorial triage, doesn't impress.
For openers, Aquino, who plays Bunny, (apparently, various younger incarnations of herself) in the production, anchors the work in a Manila museum dedicated to her uncle's memory and while museums rarely make a fertile medium for theatre, this one strikes new lows. For, in flashing backward and forward in time, the playwright fails to find any effective way of letting her audience know where and when we have been set down — a problem further exacerbated by Aquino's leaden performance, grinding out a belligerent Bunny untouched by time, exactly the same as an ailing child playing Scrabble with her uncle, or as a brooding, belligerent adult, wandering an empty museum in the throes of some ill-defined health crisis.
In this, it must be said, she appears to take after her father (played by Anthony Malarky), who prowls the periphery of the story, drink in hand, like he's hoping to find something to do before he passes out. Earl Pastko, meanwhile, drops in periodically, as the ghost of dictators past, dropping clichés like they were designer shoes. As the great man Aquino himself, Jon de Leon does some charming work — enough, in fact, that one wishes he'd been given more into which to sink his teeth than can be found this good-hearted but clearly wrong-headed project.
In attempting to pass off Scrabble as a metaphor for life, Aquino overlooks the fact that, while every letter may count, they count for so much more when they are transformed into words and then into meaningful sentences.