Potosi (Good Old Neon) 2014 Toronto Fringe Review


Of all the Toronto Fringe Festival shows I’ve attended thus far, Potosi is the only one I’ve seen in a literally full house.  The Tarragon Mainspace was packed for this show, viewers no doubt drawn in by the posters that have sprouted across the city, each reminding all who see them that Potosi is the winner of the Fringe New Play Contest.  In short, this show had some very high expectations to live up to, and as a play, it definitely achieved that much.

But this production is much more than just a play; writer/director Alexander Offord has crafted a dark and disturbing comedy-nightmare with a lot to say about its politically-charged subject matter, and even more questions to leave the audience asking itself as it trickles out of the theatre trying to process what it has just seen.

The issues at hand are highly relevant: colonialism, sexism, and greed.  Wrapped in human bodies, the three collide in explosions of rhetoric and gunfire in Potosi, Bolivia.  Mr. Beamish has been there for years, overseeing mining operations at the behest of faraway Toronto bosses, the same bosses who have dispatched Ms. Leblanc to assist him in smoothing over countless incidents of gang rape perpetrated by their company’s security forces upon local (“Native, not local!” Beamish insists) women.  And after the legal issue ignites violence and brutality, the Soldier arrives full of fury and unpleasant truths…and demands.

The three veteran actors who bring the show to life deserve high praise for their inspired performances; each is both a joy and a terror to watch as their characters’ exteriors are stripped away to reveal the festering ugliness beneath.  Viewers looking for sympathetic and likeable characters should look elsewhere, but those in search of a twisted and cynical tale should definitely give this nightmarish pseudo-satire a try.

According to Offord, Potosi began as a satire before mutating into its current form, and the play’s lineage is often apparent in both dialogue and plot.  Imagine if Sartre’s No Exit and the film Network had a child that was shipped to South America, and you’ll get a good sense of what this play feels like to watch.  And like the works cited above, Potosi asks more questions of its audience than it answers.  What horrors might our corporations be perpetrating abroad?  Are indigenous peoples justified in violently resisting what they perceive as colonialism?  How far can you go in pursuit of your aims before you cease to be human and become something evil?  Who is at fault for the state of the world?  And while we’re at it, is it exploitation to feature sexualized violence so prominently in a show in which the victims of said violence are either unseen or presented as equally reprehensible as those who perpetrate it?  Consider this a very serious warning by the way: this show contains graphic descriptions of sexual assault and features sexualized violence very prominently.  Please keep this in mind before attending this performance. 

The above are only a handful of the questions I found myself wrestling with after leaving the theatre, which demonstrates just how thought-provoking Potosi truly is.  I cannot in good conscience recommend it to everyone, especially given the show’s violent content, but if you can stomach some truly unpleasant subject matter, there is a treasure trove of discussion material and (bitter) food for thought to be found here.  And beyond that, the fantastic acting on display makes Potosi a must-see for mature audiences.

Potosi is playing at the Tarragon Theatre Mainspace (30 Bridgman Avenue) until July 13.

Performance Dates
July 02 at 10:30 PM
July 05 at 05:15 PM
July 07 at 08:00 PM
July 08 at 03:00 PM
July 10 at 12:00 PM
July 11 at 08:45 PM
July 13 at 05:15 PM

Tickets for all mainstage productions are $10 at the door, cash only. Advance tickets are $12, and can be purchased online, by phone (416-966-1062), or from the festival box office at the Fringe Club. (Rear of Honest Ed’s, 581 Bloor St. West). Money-saving value packs are also available if you are going to at least five shows; see website for details.

 To avoid disappointment, be sure to arrive a few minutes before curtain.

Image provided by the company.