From the program cover: “Chicho: (NOT Chico!) – a queer-Catholic-man-boy from Venezuela”. And that, in a nutshell is what this one-man show is all about.
If there is a more charismatic performer gracing Toronto stages this year than Augusto Bitter, I’d be very surprised. Bitter is both the writer and performer of Chicho, and he is beyond talented, not to mention that he possess an inquiring mind of immense intelligence. He can act, dance, and sing, and has one of the most expressive faces and versatile voices in show biz. His enormous imagination takes Chicho up and down strange and wonderful pathways. His clever wordplays (“DICK-tatorship”) give his text a wry and mordant wit. He makes you laugh, and he makes you cry. By the end of the show, you are in love with the captivating Bitter who has also, in the process, caught you up to speed with the tragic doings in unfortunate Venezuela.
There are two linked threads in Chicho. The first is Bitter coming to grips with being a Catholic gay man-boy. The second, is a history lesson, of sorts, about his homeland. Chicho, the character who recites the monologue about gayness and personal history, is a dweeb writ large, decked out in his school uniform looking like nerd city. Chichi, the alter ego who talks about Venezuela, sports the briefest of denim shorts and a red beret. The sexy striptease that accompanies the frequent appearances of Chichi to hot Latin music, is one of the show’s great delights. Who knew that the nerd had a great body hidden away? Bitter can salsa, and you can’t take your eyes off him.
By nature, the show rambles, and is a little on the long side. We hear about love and loss, and the immigrant experience, which parallels Venezuela’s love and loss, which Bitter rests squarely on the shoulders of the late Hugo Chavez, and his successor, Nicolas Maduro. Skin colour plays an important part in the text, and Bitter points out that he is a Mestizo, a mixed-race person and all that that implies. The troubled man and the troubled country are at the heart of Chicho, but these gloomy elements are lightened by Bitter’s ability to laugh at himself, and make us laugh with him. He plays the audience brilliantly, and we are very much an important part of the show. It’s hard to pick out my favourite sections, but the discussion of the Miss Venezuela beauty pageant and Venezuelan vanity in general is a standout. His date with the Norwegian ice princess Ingrid is also a treasure. And let’s not forget about the talking avocado (el aguacate), Chicho’s only true Latino friend (who is really from California).
Chicho is a production that is meticulously conceived. Talented director Claren Grosz is one to watch, particularly her emphasis on the physical embodiment of words. Chicho is a very closely choreographed show. Grosz is also a deft hand at playing with objects. For example, Giuseppe Condello’s set of props includes a canvas sheet which changes uses throughout, whether decking the body as a gown for Miss Venezuela, or as a bed covering for Chicho and his white lover. Just by changing the position of his legs under the cloth, Bitter instantly transforms himself between Chicho and Charlie, and this brilliant use of physicality is seen throughout Grosz’s direction. Condello also did the lighting which is pin-spot and exact. Everything in this show, both the acting and the production values, has been thought through to the finest detail. Kudos also to Deanna Choi’s sound design, which matches the stage picture with military precision.
Engaging, compelling, fascinating – all these things are Chicho, and the show is not to be missed.
Theatre Passe Muraille, Pencil Kit Productions & Aluna Theatre, Chicho, written and performed by Augusto Bitter, directed by Claren Grosz, Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace, Mar. 7 to 24, 2019.
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