A new solo play in Toronto explores the turmoil in Venezuela through a queer lens
Presented by Pencil Kit Productions and Aluna Theatre, Augusto Bitter’s one-person show, CHICHO, is currently playing at the Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace. Full of whimsy and insight, it is a grand feat of showmanship, packing in an astounding amount of characterization, Venezuelan trivia and sexy, playful antics.
In his preppy white polo shirt and grey dress pants, we meet Chicho—Catholic, Venezuelan, Queer, self-proclaimed ”man-boy” with a trembling, awkward gait and a wide-eyed, expressive face. He’s friendly and determined to win us over. Chicho isn’t entirely comfortable in his own skin, but he’s plucky and persistent!
Chicho is not alone, though. Somewhere in that nervous, trembling body is Chicha—clad in nothing but super short denim cut-offs and a bright red beret that is as enticing and it is ridiculous. Where Chicho is restrained and careful, Chicha throws caution to the wind in spectacularly witty and sensual antics. In this persona, Bitter shows us the confident and proudly sexual person that Chicho can’t fully allow himself to be.
As tantalizing as Chicha can be, he’s there for some serious business. Stalking about as a flamboyant game-show host, Chicha gets up close and personal with some audience participation. Underneath the wide eyes and flashy smile, there is something painful lurking underneath Chicha’s exuberance. He’s giving us quick, stinging reflections on the turmoil in Venezuela.
Thoughtfully camouflaged with outlandish humour, Bitter discusses such horrors as the soaring inflation rate, appalling living conditions, and the shocking number of people fleeing the violence and poverty of their homeland. As his manic intensity increases, you can see the strain of it all in his wide eyes and quivering body. There is a touching bravery that shines through in this effort to transform the terror and heartbreak of a broken home into an insightful and enchanting spectacle.
Bitter gives each of his secondary characters ample opportunity to flesh themselves out. No moment feels belaboured because he has crafted striking, meaningful details to give them weight and integrity. Even a personified (and very opinionated) avocado—that becomes an unexpected confidante—has a significant backstory and plenty of surprises hidden under his ripe skin that’ll challenge your pre-conceived notions about fruit and vegetables, gender and race.
Bitter’s script is full of shrewd plays on language—Spanish and English—as Chicho works through his fraught relationship to his own body and his ever-evolving identity. With a remarkably expressive face and agile frame, he makes the narrow stage of the TMP Backspace feel more expansive than I ever thought possible.
Bursting with charisma that had me swooning, Augusto Bitter knows instinctively how to work the crowd and yet he consistently comes off as sincere and heartfelt. Even his transitions from persona to persona are stylish and compelling. And with dynamic and seamlessly integrated use of projections, he and his world pulled me in and held me tight.
With masterful precision that keeps it grounded and on point, CHICHO still feels celebratory and anarchic. It’s a real treat that wears its humanitarian heart proudly on its sleeve.
- CHICHO runs until March 24, 2019 at Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace (16 Ryerson Ave.)
- Shows run Tuesday to Saturday at 7:30pm, matinees Sundays at 2:00pm and Saturday (March 23) at 2:00pm
- Tickets are $25 to $33
- Tickets can be purchased by phone 416.504.7529, online or at the Box Office
Photo of Augusto Bitter by Graham Isador.