The Girl in the Photograph, written by Joel Pettigrew and directed by Victoria Urquhart playing as part of the 2018 Toronto Fringe Festival, is all too relatable. Too almost uncomfortably relatable, which I guess is why this play hits so many notes, both pleasant and not so much, and why it will stay and haunt me for a very long time. This is a tale of forbidden attraction — she’s 14 and he’s older, charismatic and dangerously slick. He knows exactly what to say at any given time to coerce, manipulate and charm his way into whoever he wants.
In The Girl in the Photograph, Beto (David Chinchilla) and his directing partner Alexia (Tamara Almeida) run a theatre program for teenagers in a small town in Mexico. As the two run through Shakespeare’s greatest works, they see numerous young and vibrant teens make their way across their stage when in walks Paula (Andrea Cabeza) who possesses just the right combination of beauty, intelligence, vulnerability and eagerness that Beto just can’t ignore.
It’s a disaster waiting to happen, it’s statutory rape after all, and Beto has a long standing history of seducing women — his pregnant girlfriend Martina (Erin Roche) not to mention he and Alexia have history of their own. But Paula is in love and that attraction is intoxicating and strong, and she won’t be drawn away.
And yes, this play is haunting. It is haunting because of how relatable; I’ve been there. I may not have been underage but that feeling of having a single human being — their face, their presence, and their words — fill the entirety of your mind so that nothing else, like reason, is seen straight. When their charisma and their way with words become potent enough to convince someone young and impressionable to do just about anything. I’ve been there, and yes it is dangerous.
And I see that in Chinchilla’s performance of Beto. He embodies that exact blend of suave sensuality and intensity paired with a piercing gaze that is trouble waiting to happen. Chinchilla’s work here is incredible, his chemistry with both Alexia and Paula is potent and gives so much life to this story.
Cabeza not only portrays Paula, but she is also the creator of The Girl in the Photograph as based on her personal story. It’s no wonder she does such a fine job in portraying Paula. Her youthfulness, not only in her demeanour but in her voice, is practically virginal and lends so much credence to how young her character actually is as she is being manipulated by a man over 10 years her senior.
The scene in the bedroom as Beto uses the morning after scene in Romeo and Juliet to work Paula into a frenzy demanding that she do everything she can to make him stay is so incredibly powerful yet also highly disturbing. This is how he’s manipulated her, and you remember how young she is.
Almeida also does fine work as Alexia. I adored seeing her anger at Beto brewing just below the surface. Her interactions with him are fuelled by their sordid history together. Yet, at the same time her relation with Paula is sister-like, stern yet caring and loving. Again, there’s great chemistry here.
The staging of this is great, I love their use of the raised platform to serve both as stage and bed, that paired with the lighting cues made for a very dynamic visual story. Hats off to the director and production designer Ruth Albertyn.
The only thing that threw me off during this play was the strong background hiss from the speakers during scene transitions, it’s incredibly distracting.
The Girl in the Photograph is amazing, some of the best performances I’ve seen during the Fringe paired with a superbly compelling story. This play is bilingual and is told in both English and Spanish. The Spanish is not translated but not understanding it won’t take away from getting the full impact of this play. It also reminds me how sensual the language is.
- The Girl in the Photograph plays at the Factory Theatre Studio. (125 Bathurst St.)
- Tickets are $13, including a $2 service charge. The festival also offers a range of money-saving passes and discounts for serious Fringers.
- Tickets can be purchased online, by telephone (416-966-1062), from the Festival Box Office at Scadding Court (707 Dundas St. W.), and — if any remain — from the venue’s box office starting one hour before curtain.
- Content Warnings: Mature language; Nudity; Sexual content; Unsuitable for minors.
- The Fringe Festival considers this venue to be wheelchair-accessible.
- Be aware that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and that latecomers are never admitted.
- Friday July 6th, 7:00 pm
- Saturday July 7th, 2:00 pm
- Monday July 9th, 8:45 pm
- Tuesday July 10th, 10:15 pm
- Wednesday July 11th, 3:45 pm
- Saturday July 14th, 5:45 pm
- Sunday July 15th, 3:45 pm
Photo of Andrea Cabeza and David Chinchilla by Liliana Vera