Léo by Rosa Laborde

Dates 20 February - 1 March 2008 @ 7.30 pm, Tues-Thurs. Fri and Sat @ 8 pm. Matinees Sat-Sun @ 2pm

Venue Firehall Theatre, 280 East Cordova, Vancouver

Reviewers Erin Jane | Ed Farolan


Review by Erin Jane

Rosa Laborde's Léo is about love, but also politics, poetry, philosophy, religion, family relationships, sexual relationships, purity vs. goodness, the exploration of meaning vs. pointlessness, and the Bermuda Triangle. The number of themes can at times intertwine quite interestingly in this fairly abstract play, but at other times, can feel just a little overwhelming.

Aside from my personal preference for stories with more cohesive themes, éo was so brilliantly executed that I couldn’t help but ignore the play’s abstract, scattered themes.

Three characters, childhood friends, interact against a backdrop of political upheaval in Chile during the late 1960s. A very simple stage set-up (nothing, in fact, but a large triangular piece of carpet) helped convey the theme of triangles: the love triangle, the Bermuda Triangle, Léo’s obsession with triangles that "always have sharp corners."

Salvatore Antonio (Léo) has his role cut out for him. Having already played the part in Toronto and several times since, Antonio is a talented young man and has clearly made the role his own. He is the poet of the three characters, whose words "imprison his emotions" so that they don't kill him, or so he says.

The dramatic Léo is constantly philosophizing and trying to unravel the difference between meaning and meaninglessness, purity and goodness. With his ambiguous morals, he draws his two friends into complex relationships with one another, but depth and intrigue make his questionable morality very appealing, or at least interesting, in contrast with his more rigidly righteous political friend, Rodrigo, and the rather two-dimensionally maladjusted third friend, Isolda.

Salvatore delivers the part effortlessly and with conviction. For a play running a mere 70 minutes, Léo takes hold of you and makes you feel that if you were to happen upon Mr. Antonio on the street or in a chance meeting sometime, you would want to question him further on what he thought of this issue and that, hoping to probe deeper into the intriguing ego of Léo.

Narcissistically, he constantly struggles with ideas and contradictions, including the idea of disappearance and what it means, so much so that he basically retreats (or disappears) into his own psyche for most of the play. When Rodrigo accuses him of thinking only of himself, he retorts,"What else is there?" And to be honest, I believed him.

As plentiful as the themes in Léo are, I’m glad the play doesn't focus heavily on political events. In fact, I would say Laborde fails to create a real connection between political backdrop and characters. In any case, Léo's emotional world was enough to fill the stage.

© 2008 Erin Jane

Review by Ed Farolan

Homosexuality, bisexuality, heterosexuality. Politics, poetry, religion. In this play, everything comes in threes. Three characters. A love triangle. A triangular stage. References to the disappearances in the Bermuda Triangle paralleling the disappearances after the military takeover of Chile.

Tarragon Theatre's production of Léo, by Rosa Laborde, received cheers, whistles, and the magic three curtain calls on opening night.

Salvatore Antonio (Léo), Sergio Di Sio (Rodrigo), and Lesley Faulkner (Isolda) delivered with enthusiasm, conviction, and energy. Set in Salvador Allende's Chile, Léo follows the path of three friends, who journey from innocence to understanding as they learn what it means truly to "disappear."

Léo premiered at Toronto's Tarragon Theatre in January 2006 and was a triumphant success. The play, in Spanish and English, offered the audience a taste of Chilean sensibility and the music, originally composed by Mario Puente, provided the audience with a bittersweet mood, as the songs, sung in Spanish, told tales of soldiers picking up dissidents who then are no longer heard of.

This situation is an occurring tale in many miliary dictatorships, from Marcos to Pinochet, from Idi Amin to Sadaam Hussein, and it goes on in the annals of humanity. Many Chileans in the 1970s sought refugee status in Canada after Allende's overthrow, and I can only presume that playwright Rosa Laborde was a child when she came to Canada with her family. The playwright is perhaps Léo, the passionate young poet.

The play's concept is poetry; many of the lines are poetic. In contrast, Rodrigo is the idealist who believes in socialism and democracy, as many do in youth.

Isolda is a young woman who doesn't know what to do in life. She is a drifter, and the three are childhood friends. She loves both, heterosexual that she is, but Rodrigo is homosexual, a closet case, while Léo is bisexual.

The dreams of youth disappear abruptly with the military takeover, and in the last scene, Rodrigo and Léo are caught in bed together, dragged out, and killed by faceless men. Isolda is apparently raped, but then escapes from Chile with her parents.

The ending is tragic, but there's a twist that leaves the audience wondering: Is the epilogue the afterlife where they are together again as in their childhood days? The triangle becomes a circle at the finale. It ends the way it started with "Happy Birthday" sung in Spanish for Léo: "Feliz cumpleaños a ti ...."

© 2008 Ed Farolan