On the eve of the first two development performances of EVA IN RIO this June 26th and 27th at the MAI, Montreal Theatre Hub’s Camila Fitzgibbon spoke with playwright/performer GABE MAHARJAN and director MICHELLE RAMBHAROSE about Playground Productions’ latest theatrical endeavour. Read our full preview piece in anticipation of the production below.
This interview has been edited for purposes of clarity and length.
Theatre is coming to terms with its problems of equity, diversity and inclusivity and shifting to make amends with its history of under-representation of minorities – fact? Fantasy? Progress appears delayed, but every so often a press release in our inbox gives us hope.
Riding a new wave of movers, makers, and shakers is Playground Productions, a Montreal-based indie theatre company championing, per its mandate, up-and-coming creators of “innovative and socially relevant works”. And, after first presenting itself as the new kid on the block in 2017 with Rajiv Joseph’s Gruesome Playground Injuries, it now chalks the pavement with an original piece that gives fresh colour and singular texture to the local stage arts scene.
Described as a surrealist coming-of-age play, Eva in Rio depicts the fantasy of a young Canadian trans woman who wakes up in sunny-side-up Rio de Janeiro on the day of her gender reassignment surgery. She’s after her perfect body – and her ideal lover – prime desires which propel her throughout her journey along a utopic beachside Brazil. This chimerical “Alice in Wonderland”-esque adventure takes some dark twists and turns, however, and Eva finds herself torn between the life she is living and that which she ultimately dreams of.
It’s a compelling premise. The real magic, though, is in who gets to write and tell this story.
TRANS CHARACTERS, IN THEIR OWN WORDS
GABE MAHARJAN and MICHELLE RAMBHAROSE – two of Montreal theatre’s most promising and prominent young artistic voices – are among the collaborating creative forces birthing the company’s latest brainchild.
A non-binary artist of colour, Playground Productions Co-Founder Gabe Maharjan (they/them) pens the piece and performs on stage as its titular personage (Eva in Rio is their professional playwriting debut). Elevating the script to its theatrical potential is director Michelle Rambharose (she/her), who has been carving her niche in Montreal with interdisciplinary creations that explore feminist theory. Together, they emerge and converge to produce a brighter palette of contemporary theatre practitioners in the community, and their personal backgrounds and experiences credibly shape the lens through which we see this unique narrative of diversity and adversity being told.
“Representing minority voices that exist but that are not often given a platform for expression [is at the core of the work]”, begins Marhajan. “We’re starting to see more and more stories of queer people written by queer artists, which is important, but we need to continue to move even further in that direction.”
LGBTQ protagonists are not exactly novel features in the greater panorama of Canadian theatre, but first hand perspectives are still necessary to push boundaries of stock stereotypes.
“I find that a lot of what is out there is based on trans people trying to fit into a society that sees them as being different. It ends up being this very external thing and it often focuses on transitions. ‘Eva’ is about that as well, but it’s less about how others see this individual and more about the internal conflict of how she sees herself.”
AN EXPLORATION – OR EXCAVATION – OF IDENTITY
Eva in Rio, then, dives and delves into the psyche of its eponymous character and fleshes it from the inside out.
“Gabe has done an exceptional job of writing someone that is so beautifully complex and colourful,” hints Rambharose. “Eva is audacious, sassy and fun – but she also has these moments of quiet thoughtfulness, and we get to see all of these different shades and hues of her personality in the world of the play.”
It’s a vivid world in which heavy subject matter is counterbalanced by comedy, and one that juxtaposes contradicting conditions of fantasy and reality.
(The shape-shifting piece, while primarily textually driven, is also made all the more graphic by Rambharose with her distinct movement vocabulary and dance-like choreography, providing for some powerful imagery in its swift and curious storytelling.)
“Eva imagines Brazil as this open, friendly place where she can start a new life as her authentic self,” explains Maharjan, whose own childhood fascination with the country and with escapism to the elsewhere provided fibre for the script. “It’s easier to just run away from problems rather than facing them; that’s how this play approaches this individual’s journey through a foreign land. But we know that’s not exactly the best way to resolve them.”
The particularities of Eva’s circumstances may be uncommon, perhaps, but the story anchors itself in desires and fears that are universal.
“Identity is something everyone – not just those who are going through puberty or who are queer – is grappling with in a society where there are so many norms and expectations of what you’re supposed to be and do”, continues the playwright. Religion, for example, here presents itself as an institutional influencer. Family also appears as a governing factor. “Eva’s quest in trying to find a sense of belonging and a home speaks to a human truth that I think many people will be able to connect to.”
Concerns of curation of the self in the age of the Internet also has the potential to galvanize modern audiences. “What’s really relatable and resonant for me [about this piece] is the concept of performativity of identity online and how that occupies so much space in our minds,” elaborates Rambharose. “How social media affects our relationships with others – and ourselves – is a major topic that’s being addresed.”
PICTURED: Michelle Rambharose (Director), Nikita Bala (Stage/Production Management and Lighting Design), Dakota Jamal Wellman (Performer), and Gabe Maharjan (Playwright/Performer).
Along with Nalo Soyini Bruce (Costume and Set Design), unpictured, they are all alumni of Black Theatre Workshop’s Artist Mentorship Program, which they credit for providing them with the resources to find a place in the working industry as artists of colour. The production has also received long-term development support from Playwrights’ Workshop Montreal, Centaur Theatre, Teesri Duniya, MAI, Emploi Québec, and the Festival TransAmérique.
“It’s hard to make diversity happen on stage, but what BTW is doing is proving that these talents do exist, and elevating work that actually represents the Canadian populace as a whole as opposed to just a slice of it.” –– Gabe Maharjan.
A JOURNEY OF A JOURNEY
“Relevant” is a shopworn term to describe theatre, but in approaching the isolating, distorting effects of digital media and ongoing questions of gender and identity, Eva in Rio is pertinent to the millisecond.
For certain theatregoers, it’ll be a coveted chance to see themselves accurately reflected on stage; for others, it’ll be a cherished opportunity to gain insight into an under/misrepresented minority.
Ultimately, the show seeks to move audiences to empathy and discourse – particularly now in its vulnerable phases of public experimentation and exposition.
“[With Eva in Rio], we hope to bring out compassion between people by showing them what’s under the surface of being transgender,” bookends Maharjan, “and I think that by focusing in on an individual character and the specificity of their experiences, we can offer a greater understanding of the depth and complexities of the trans experience.”
After each preview performance this June at the MAI, spectators will be invited to provide written feedback that will serve as valuable input to its creators in determining the future and final form of the production.
Eva will find her footing, we’re assured.
When: June 26th & 27th, 2019 at 8PM
Where: MAI (3680 Jeanne-Mance, Montréal, H2X 2K5)
Admission: Pay What You Decide ($10 recommended)
Reserve Tickets Online: https://forms.gle/vkQb637pmrKLfvpR7
Playground Productions presents a Development Presentation
“EVA IN RIO“
By Gabe Maharjan
Directed by Michelle Rambharose
Starring Gabe Maharjan and Dakota Jamal Wellman
Stage/Production Management and Lighting Design by Nikita Bala
Costume and Set Design by Nalo Soyini Bruce
Sound Design by Evan Stepanian
Production Assistance by Meghan Kerr
Dramaturgy by Jesse Stong
GABE MAHARJAN (Playwright/Performer) is an actor and creator based in Tio’tia:ke/Montreal. Gabe graduated from the Dome in 2017, and they recently completed The Black Theatre Workshop’s Artist Mentorship Program in the actor’s stream. They also participated in Playwrights’ Workshop Montreal’s Young Creators Unit and Teesri Duniya’s Fireworks Program. Gabe is currently taking part in Montréal, arts interculturels’ Alliances program and serving on the Board of Directors of the Quebec Drama Federation.
A selection of Gabe’s performance credits include Jayne in WASP (presented at the 40th Rhubarb Festival at Buddies in Bad Times), Haemon in Raise the Stakes’ Antigone, Eddie in The Last Wife as part of Imago’s “Her Side” festival, Robin in Cabal’s La Somnambule, and Tripp in Sermo Scomber’s Don’t Read the Comments — which won the Frankie Award for Most Promising English Company at the 2018 Montreal Fringe. Gabe voices Hayao in Epsilon Games’ Primus Vita. They made their directorial debut in 2017, when they produced Rajiv Joseph’s Gruesome Playground Injuries (Playground Productions).
MICHELLE RAMBHAROSE (Director) is a Guyanese-Canadian theatre creator and actor based in Montreal. Her work as a creator has been showcased independently in Montreal since 2014. Recent creation work includes direction and co-writing for Maskuline (Festival Vue sur la Relève/Troisème Espace Théâtre), writing contributions for Blackout (Tableau d’Hôte Theatre), co-creation for Confiteor: Vol I & Confiteor: Vol II (Obra Anaïs).