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SCRUTINY | Aluna Theatre’s On The Other Side Of The Sea Is Perfection

By Paula Citron on February 20, 2024

Carlos Gonzalez-Vio and Bea Pizano (Photo: Jeremy Mimnaugh)
Carlos Gonzalez-Vio and Bea Pizano (Photo: Jeremy Mimnaugh)

Aluna Theatre/On the Other Side of the Sea, written by Jorgelina Cerritos, translated by Dr. Margaret Stanton and Anna Donko, directed by Soheil Parsa. The Theatre Centre, to Feb. 25. Tickets available here

There is but one word to describe Aluna Theatre’s production of On the Other Side of the Sea, and that is perfection.

Aluna’s usual fare is presenting plays written by members of the Latin America diaspora living in Canada. On the Other Side of the Sea, however, is the first play by a Latin American writer from outside the country, and it is a major choice.

The multi award-winning El Salvadoran playwright Jorgelina Cerritos is revered in Latin American theatre circles, and this play won the prestigious Casa de las Americas Literary Award for Drama in 2010. The prolific Cerritos is also a university professor and an artistic director of a renowned theatre company in San Salvador. She is also acclaimed for her poetry and children’s literature.

Research tells me that Cerritos’ plays tend to focus on social themes, the absurdities of life, the crushing effect of bureaucracy, and the resilience of the human spirit. She sits somewhere in the Theatre of the Absurd, but I found On the Other Side of the Sea to be more a sister to Jean-Paul Sartre’s existential plays. And then, of course, her works also reflect that Latin American favourite device, magic realism, where things that aren’t real help to heighten the reality.

On the Other Side of the Sea is a two-hander.

First, you have Dorotea (Beatriz Pizano), a civil servant of a certain age who deals in documents, and who has been banished from the capital because of her age. Her new office is on a dock beside the sea where she has no clients.

Trevor Schwellnus’ incongruous set captures the eye immediately — a wooden jetty upon which sits a chair and a table, surrounded by the black expanse of the sea. His gorgeous, atmospheric lighting adds to the surreal nature of the locale. Thomas Ryder Payne has provided the effective soundtrack that moves between the sound of the sea and simple electronica drone.

The second person in the play is a man simply called Fisherman (Carlos Gonzalez-Vio). He needs a document that will allow him to leave the sea and live on the land because he has formed attachments to a friend (a Black Man), a woman (Mermaid) and a dog. Because he doesn’t know where he is from, or who his parents were, Dorotea can’t issue a document.

The collision between the two occurs because the bureaucratic-obsessed Dorotea needs the answers to these very obvious questions: “First Name, Last Name, Address, Age”, which of course, Fisherman can’t answer. The focus of the play is how these two very different people form a liaison that changes the static nature of both their lives.

Bea Pizano (Photo: Jeremy Mimnaugh)
Bea Pizano (Photo: Jeremy Mimnaugh)

This marvellous and thought-provoking work, however, is much, much more than a depiction of a relationship. Cerritos has given us a deep and profound meditation on the nature of identity, while posing questions about our very existence and our need for authenticity. She introduces the ideas of blighted lives and lost souls, of broken dreams and inner angst, balanced against the human ability to show empathy, and a belief in the power of hope.

On the Other Side of the Sea is a Soheil Parsa production, and once again, this brilliant director can do no wrong.

This is a play built around scenes and interior monologues that slide into one another, moving between the past and the present with astonishing ease. Metaphors and symbolism abound. In other words, there is a lot to contend with in the staging of the piece, and Parsa’s approach has been to present a clean, clear, direct rendering of Cerritos’ language, but also allowing for passion of delivery. The emotional subtext of this play is very real, almost palpable.

The two actors are wonderful.

The play gives Aluna artistic director Pizano a chance to be on stage and show her outstanding skill as an actor. She is a wound-up doll who is frozen to the rules, and we have all met bureaucrats like her. She is absolutely fierce in clinging to her job, because it is what gives her definition. Parsa has ensured, however, that the gentle arc of her character is rendered with care. Subtlety is the key.

On the other hand, Gonzalez-Vio presents a portrait of vim and vigour — a young man full of life, but confused by its challenges. His lively, open personality contrasts beautifully with Dorotea’s repressed nature. His character also goes through changes, but his forward nature is never compromised. Under Parsa’s direction, Fisherman’s reality never falters.

Niloufar Ziaee’s costumes are very effective.

Dorotea’s brown blouse is buttoned to the top of the throat and sits under a black tightly-fitted, corset-like bodice over a demure ankle-length skirt. Everything about Dorotea appears restricted. In contrast, Fisherman looks like he comes from another century, with pantaloons, loose shirt, bare feet and headband.

I found On the Other Side of the Sea to be absolutely compelling theatre. Cerritos’ words seemed to flow into my body and I was at one with the play. I was intuitively understanding where the playwright was leading me with director Parsa and actors Pizano and Gonzalez-Vio as my guides.

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Paula Citron
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