Governor General Winner still reaches Toronto audiences
I realize I can’t speak for everyone, but I do have to say that playwright/actor Guillermo Verdecchia’s autobiographical play, Fronteras Americanas (American Borders), currently playing at Soulpepper Theatre, is something I can relate to. Some may feel that it is out-dated, however, the substance is there. It’s a story about feeling torn between two places, feeling nor here, nor there, a feeling I can still relate to even in my early thirties as a Canadian-born, first generation Italian-Canadian.
Winning Guillermo Verdecchia a Governor General Award for Best Drama in 1993, Fronteras Americanas’s current remount at The Young Centre for the Performing Arts is an honest, humorous, touching and vulnerable portrayal of one man’s search for identity. Born in Argentina and immigrating to Canada with his family at the age of two, Verdecchia candidly shares personal stories and memories of the past as he first comes to Canada, to then returning to Argentina in his twenties, to finally a life-changing experience on a stopover in Santiago.
In the midst of exposing his personal story, Verdecchia interweaves comments and thoughts on the ongoing stereotypes of Latin Americans in the media. He also comically dissects the meaning of Spanish-related words. He presents to us two very different characters. The first one we meet is himself- An Argentinian Canadian. Honest, articulate, well spoken, sophisticated, politician-like, Verdecchia tells us his stories and his constant battle in “crossing the border.” In his second role as Fecundo Morales Secundo, a Latin American character also referred to as “Wideload,” with an accent and hip sway, Verdecchia gives us further perspectives and commentaries.
Setting himself against the backdrop of a slide projected screen with a geographic map, Verdecchia’s many assumed roles walk up and down the slanted stage, as he simultaneously transitions the slides from image to image, cleverly transporting us from Canada to South America.
Although the stage was simple, I thought Glenn Davidson’s design was a good fit to Verdecchia’s delivery style as it reminded me of the typical variety show style format I often see on the Telelatino channel (where I sometimes tune into to practice my Italian). I don’t know if this was an intentional reference, but it definitely reminded me of that style of format typically found in Latin-style television programming and I felt it worked in Verdecchia’s presentational approach.
I thought it was bold of Soulpepper Theatre to produce such an original, unconventional one-man show. I commend Jim Warren and Guillermo Verdecchia for their risk taking and courage. As an inner-city school teacher, I can say that this topic is indeed relevant today. Many of my students are recent immigrants from China, while just a few summers ago I facilitated a special program for Sudanese and Columbian students intended to help high school students with the “acculturation process”.
Although the play had a strong first act, it did lose a bit of momentum by the second half. Regardless, it resonated with both my husband and I (also an Italian-Canadian). Theatre is meant to provoke thought, cause us to question, inspire us, anger or frustrate us, humour us, and of course, it is a forum for freedom of speech.
My parents may have immigrated long ago (1970s) but I can tell you, even in our thirties, my siblings and I still struggle with our own identities. With frequent trips to Italy both as children and adults, we find ourselves caught in between. One foot here in Canada, and one foot there, in Italy. In all honesty, I don’t think that will ever change. I’ve simply accepted it. For most of his life, my father always yearned to make Italy “home” again. However, at 65 years old and with all of us children scattered around the globe, he has finally resigned himself to the fact that he never will. Perhaps, only in death.
Written and performed by the clearly charismatic and talented Guillermo Verdecchia, and directed with insight and sensitivity, Fronteras Americanas is worth venturing out to see. It is up to each individual audience member to take what they wish from it.
–Fronteras Americanas will be playing at Soulpepper (Youth Center for the Performing Arts building located at 55 Mill Street in the Distillery District) May 24th at 1:30pm, May 25th at 7:30pm, May 27th at 7:30pm, June 2nd at 7:30pm, June 4th at 7:30pm, June 8th at 1:30pm, June 11th at 7:30pm, and June 12th at 1:30pm.
-Tickets may be purchased by calling the box office at 416-866-8666 or by visiting www.soulpepper.ca
-Ticket prices range from $25-$65 with rush tickets 30 minutes prior to a show. Student tickets are also available at a discounted price. Youth Rush Tickets are also available for students age 21 and under for $5.
Photograph of Guillermo Verdecchia taken by Cylla Von Tiedemann