Review: 'Chicho' at Theatre Passe Muraille

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  • Joe Szekeres, Chief Toronto Critic

I was pleased upon my arrival at Passe Muraille and being told the production is not pronounced ‘Chico’ as in Chico & The Man but ‘Cheech’o (as in comedians “Cheech & Chong”). I am hoping you are old enough to remember these two references. Mr. Bitter also refers to this fact at the top of the show.

Theatre Passe Muraille has billed ‘Chicho’ as “an ashamed-queer-Catholic-man-boy from Venezuela who hilariously attempts to feel beautiful despite his warring identity politics”.  So much inferred within this statement that I had no idea what I was about to see; however, what I’ve been discovering lately is the theatre of which I know nothing about leaves an indelible mark. This was my first visit to Passe Muraille so I was looking forward to attending.

Within the intimacy of the Backspace at Passe Muraille, a very simple set of a stool upstage right with an avocado on top (I’ll never look at avocadoes the same way ever again) and an angled dressing mirror on a movable riser with a drop cloth over it, I was led on a journey that was sometimes hilarious, a bit uncomfortable, often sad and highly poignant in Mr. Bitter’s attempt to feel ‘beautiful’ even in the midst of all the confusion he feels about himself, his country of Venezuela and his new home in Canada.

At this opening night performance, Mr. Bitter was magnetic as Chicho in his flamboyant and wildly enthusiastic delivery of this approximately 100-minute monologue sans intermission. He flits, shimmies, shakes and skims across the stage with an effeminate gracefulness and often bold and much in your face ‘I don’t care at all’ attitude. At times, he loves audience participation and with abandon either prances or dives right into the crowd with fanfare and glee to give little trinkets and tokens.

Future audience members who hold the Catholic faith close to their heart as I do, be forewarned as there are segments that did make me feel uncomfortable. Nevertheless, the technique of theatre should make us feel like this at times. While I didn’t object or was insulted by anything that was presented, I felt it was a tad unfair and unjust in presenting a one-sided and clearly outdated look at elements of the teachings of the Church in relationship to Chicho’s present lifestyle. I won’t bother getting into it here as this article is not a diatribe, but rather an opinion about a solid actor simply enjoying what he was doing in front of a live audience.

If anything, I marvelled at this performer’s energy and wondered how he maintains this octane fuelled stamina and drive. Director Claren Grosz and Mr. Bitter must have had some interesting and wild rehearsals in trying to decide where to give 110% energy and where to pull back.

Given the intimacy of the auditorium and from my vantage point in the house, Mr. Bitter clearly and cleverly uses his eyes and his facial features to convey many of his emotions that rang true for me. For me, underneath all Chicho’s heightened bravado to feel ‘beautiful’ lies an individual who is sad, scared and lonely as he goes from relationship to relationship sometimes fulfilled but often not. Make sure you read the very important BRIEF HISTORY in the programme as it helped me to contextualize Chicho’s present life with the connections he still feels to his home country.

Final Comments: As this was opening night, there wasn’t a possibility of having an audience talkback with Mr. Bitter and Ms. Grosz as people were set to enjoy a party. I hope there might be audience talkbacks later in the run for those who might be interested in speaking to Mr. Bitter and his take on the development and genesis of this story.  He

‘Chicho’ continues to March 24 at Theatre Passe Muraille, 16 Ryerson Avenue, Toronto.  For tickets, call the Box Office at 416-504-7529 or visit www.passemuraille.ca for further information.

Running time: 100 minutes with no intermission.

Photo of Augusto Bitter by Dahlia Katz.

Director/Producer: Claren Grosz; Sound Designer: Deanna H. Choi; Sound Assistant: Frank Incer; Lighting and Set Designer: Giuseppe Condello, Stage and Production Manager: Elyse Waugh; Production Assistant: Eunji Lee; Dramaturg: Jivesh Parasram;