I feel privileged to have attended the world premiere of Elsewhere, where Montreal-based theatre company Odd Stumble gifts theatregoers with six different perspectives on the Venezuelan crisis. This one-woman show uses mask, movement, storytelling, and a striking set to provide deeper and complex insight into the crisis. Written and performed by Joy Ross-Jones, directed by Cristina Cugliandro, and choreographed by Leslie Baker, Elsewhere is an entertaining and heartfelt multidisciplinary theatre piece that gives the audience no choice but to care deeply for a tragic situation that is hardly being reported on.
Ross-Jones delivers an outstanding performance as she completely transforms into six different characters. The audience meets a range of people dealing with the collapse of their beloved country; they are all affected differently and respond in unique ways, but we learn that the irresponsibility of their government and lack of food and resources touches all walks of life.
Cugliandro demonstrates the art form that is crafting transitions. Even as Joy switched characters, the audience is on the edge of their seats listening intently and watching closely to see how she morphs from one to another. As she changes masks and shoes, we are drawn deeper into the set. The depth of the space allows the onlooker to be transported to a world of waiting in line for food at the grocery store, protests, but also beauty.
It was a treat each moment Ross-Jones put on a mask. She was high energy, hilarious, fun to watch, and made each mask a fully developed character – each staggeringly different from the next. She also flawlessly moved between English and a little bit of Spanish in a way that even non-Spanish speaking folks could understand what the character was getting at. Her accents were varied and convincing and her presence was so complete that it washed over the audience, evoking a lot of laughter and tears.
Contributing to the laughs and tears was, of course, the script. Ross-Jones showed excellent skill in creating extremely different voices for each character and for the most part, I thought the order in which the different stories were told formed a beautiful arc.
The space, though I imagine was difficult to light, was effectively lit and gave the right atmosphere for these heart warming/wrenching stories to be told. Costumes were simple but also extremely effective – shoes say so much about a person and I can still remember the shoes each character wore days after seeing the show. The masks were works of art that gave the audience so much insight into the characters.
Luckily each show also has an optional talkback with the artist afterwards where, on opening night, we received so much more context for the piece with concrete examples of the crisis. We learned that protestors were in their 62nd day of conflict with a government who refuses to admit that their country is in a crisis. We learned that people are eating on average one meal per day; that the average salary of a professional in Venezuela right now is the equivalent to $20 US dollars per month, without the prices of goods reflecting these salaries; that people need to turn to the black market and Facebook to buy things like soap and food; that doctors and hospitals are short on medical and surgical supplies but are not allowed to accept donations; and that there is no future for young Venezuelans if they do not leave their country.
I encourage you to go see Elsewhere, and stay for the talkback if you can. Not only is it beautiful and entertaining, it is also so important because it tells the story of people living in the crisis right now – but also of a Venezuelan-Canadian living in Montreal and trying to figure out how she can help from afar. This is a question anyone fortunate enough to attend the Montreal Fringe should take the time to ask themselves, and after seeing this show, I’m sure won’t be able to help but ask.
Review by Montreal Theatre Hub Fringe Contributor Madison Jolliffe
Odd Stumble presents
When: June 1-8, 2017
Where: Rialto Studio, 5723 Avenue du Parc
Duration: 60 minutes
Box Office: www.montrealfringe.ca | 514.849.FEST (3378)
Official Media Partner of the 2017 St-Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival
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