'Year of the Rat'

Streamed through Toronto's Factory Theatre

(courtesy of Factory Theatre website)

Joe Szekeres

Outstanding ensemble monologue work with a dash of something caught on camera that might not have been able to be captured live in the theatre

Factory Theatre bills this extraordinary outstanding ensemble work as four stories of individuals behind closed doors and “their relationships with their homes, and with themselves, forever changed by an ongoing global confinement.”

And that it is, no hesitation from me with this statement.

However, I did a quick bit of online research to learn more about the Year of the Rat as I’ve always found the Chinese Zodiac cycle interesting. What I discovered: “The rat is the first sign of the Chinese zodiac and, as such, represents new beginnings. That means this year should be a good year for fresh starts.”

Well, we all know what occurred between 2020 and 2022 as this pandemic has been extremely hard on all of us.

But it was the ‘new beginnings’ and ‘fresh starts’ that piqued my curiosity because several of the artists whom I’ve interviewed for the OnStage Blog Profile series commented on how this pandemic allowed them to re-start certain things in their lives once again, sometimes good while at other times not what was possibly expected.

These four commissioned digital works by Augusto Bitter IV, Charlotte Corbeil-Coleman, Rosa Laborde and Anita Majumdar spoke passionately, refreshingly, and poignantly from their hearts about their losses and gains through their new beginnings and fresh starts throughout this ongoing global confinement. The presence of the rat, whether in a picture in the bottom right-hand corner of my screen (or behind the shower curtain in ‘Candice’s bathroom), was a constant reminder of its presence. I loved how each of the artists wittingly acknowledged director Nina-Lee Aquino in saying they had no hesitation to develop a script based on the parameters for this online production. But the consternation, the concern, the panic emanating from their very faces told me otherwise.

What resonated so deeply within me as a viewer and listener of their stories streamed live from their homes?

It was their eyes.

Whether Director Nina Lee Aquino intended this or not, it was a marvellous choice. I found myself just staring into the artists’ eyes as they told their stories. For me, it became a synchronous connection with them in experiencing their joy, their pain, their anguish, their hurt.

The camera work and editing captured this magnificently that I’m not sure if I would have had this same interrelation sitting live in a theatre unless I might have been in the first or second row.

Rosa Laborde opens the evening as she sits on her bed in the apartment she shares with her husband and young child. She is folding the toddler’s clothes fresh out of the laundry. Rosa was to have spoken from her kitchen but ultimately heard a rat in one of the cupboards, so a quick decision was made to film from the bedroom. What ensued then was a tremendously moving story of the influence of ‘abuelita’ (grandmother in Spanish) on Rosa’s life growing up and how she missed seeing her at so many crucial developmental moments during the pandemic – specifically the birth of her child. We then are connected from Rosa’s story to actor Augusto Bitter’s monologue. And what was the connection? Augusto provided the voice of Rosa’s abuelita.

Augusto’s monologue took place in the front hallway of their home they share with a lesbian couple. They were on their way out for the evening to meet their boyfriend and other friends to sing karaoke. For me, their monologue was ironically entitled ‘Stairway to Heaven’. Yes, the whiteness of the hallway might/could represent the purity and goodness of heaven. (I know, that’s a stretch in connection) Normally, I picture a stairway to heaven going up, but this stairway was going down and out of the building.

Just listening to Augusto’s stirring monologue kept my attention focused because there were rare moments where Augusto was in heaven except a few times where he spoke proudly about the other ancestors who were also named Augusto in the family.

But it was in Bitter’s monologue where I recognized how they used their eyes so bravely and so courageously to share what was in their heart.

Charlotte Corbeil-Coleman’s ‘Want Now’ will speak to new parents. Her monologue took place in the attic of the house she shares with her husband and young son who will say ‘Want Now’ when he doesn’t want to sleep. Although I am not a parent, I remember discussions and watching family and friends who were new parents for the first time, and the many roles new parents play from cook to maid, to doctor, (the list is endless).

What initially hooked my attention was Corbeil-Coleman calling herself a bad actor in her own life. And again, I remember these new parents sometimes concluding if they were still able to be ‘good enough friends’, ‘good enough siblings’ or ‘good enough adult children’ when a new life is their sole responsibility. Corbeil-Coleman also recalls the influence and staunch support of two very important female figures in her life: her late mother and the late actor Linda Griffith who both, I am assuming, passed away from cancer. And again, it is the look in Ms. Corbeil-Coleman’s eyes that sometimes teared up as she spoke of these two ladies that made her monologue even more powerful.

Finally, we meet wannabe social media influencer Candice the Comic Snitch grandly played by Anita Majumdar. In looking at her picture above, I thought perhaps she might have been playing herself as she is getting ready to go out for the evening. But that wasn’t the case.

Majumdar’s carefully controlled and emotionally hellbent over the top Candice who thinks she is a strong social media Instagram influencer, but far from it, is a true to life and ‘in your face’ study of those who turn to social media to become something in life they truly are not. The blond wig Ms. Majumdar sports becomes the first tell-tale sign of this fact.

As her monologue progresses and we see some of ‘Candice’s’ followers begin to unravel and unnerve her online, Ms. Majumdar’s eyes say so much through tears and through the removal of her wig at the end and the sporting of PPE that we’ve all had to wear at one point during these last two years.

FINAL COMMENTS: Actors must use their bodies and their very being to convey so much of who they are to become in front of an audience.

Bitter, Corbeil-Coleman, Laborda and Majumdar definitively accomplish this task, and when their eyes and faces enhance even further what their bodies are showing, then there is the making of great theatre.

“Year of the Rat’ is funny, sensitive, provoking, cathartic, and theatrical’
“A definite must see”.

Production runs approximately 90 minutes.
‘Year of the Rat’ runs to March 5. For tickets and other information, please visit www.factorytheatre.ca.

YEAR OF THE RAT A Factory Theatre World Premiere Production
Four commissioned digital works written and performed by Augusto Bitter IV, Charlotte Corbeil-Coleman, Rosa Laborde and Anita Majumdar.
Directed by Nina-Lee Aquino.
Lighting Designer and Production Manager: Michelle Ramsay
Sound Designer and Composer: Mikael Bensimon
Set Designer: Camillia Koo
Costume Designer: Joyce Padua
Stage Manager: Kai-Yueh Chen
Broadcast Designer and Operator: Miquelon Rodriquez
Head of Props: Elizabeth Kenny
Head of Wardrobe: Ellie Koffman
Dramaturg: Matt McGeachy





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