Adapted by writer/director Phoebe Fregoli (a fourth-year Concordia student studying women’s studies and creative writing) from the Anne Carson novel-in-verse by the same name, Tuesday Night Café Theatre’s production of Autobiography of Red is a Greek myth transposed to mid-20th century rural southern Ontario.
According to ancient legend, the play’s protagonist, Geryon, is a fearsome monster with one body and three heads who is brutally killed by the divine hero Herakles. In Red, Geryon, played by musician and actor Mich Cota, is reimagined as an artsy, sensitive, teenage boy, burdened by a pair of red wings that he hides under his trench coat. He is moody but endearing and feels sorely misunderstood by almost everyone. He’s the kind of guy who’s always being interrupted in the middle of his contemplative inner monologues. His self-documentation becomes a recurring motif throughout the play. When we are first introduced to Geryon, his autobiography is a sculpture that he’s making out of things he finds around the house.
Geryon lives with his naïve but well-intentioned mother (Annah-Lauren Bloom) along with his cruel and tactless big brother (Connor Miles, Year 2 Building Engineering at Concordia University), Geryon first meets Herakles, played by Stephen Lawrence (in his final year of a Communications Masters at Concordia), at a bus stop and falls deeply in love with him. Learning about photography from Herakles, Geryon decides his autobiography will instead become a photographic essay, excerpts of which are projected onstage throughout the play. Years after Herakles breaks Geryon’s heart for the first time, the two men reunite in Argentina and Geryon finds himself the unwitting third member of a tempestuous love triangle made up of himself, Herakles and Herakles’ sexy Peruvian boyfriend, Ancash, played by José Carmago.
Driven by language and emotion rather than plot, Geryon’s story unfolds slowly and carefully. In place of sensationalism and theatrics, Red has a placid, introspective quality that allows the viewer to absorb the play in all of its complexity. Both the setting (Terrance Richard) and costuming (Ali Hendra) are muted yet elegant, their simplicity only serving to make Geryon stand out, rendering his character all the more otherworldly. His red wings punctuate the otherwise neutral-coloured and prim dress of the characters around him. Despite the second half of the story taking place in Argentina, the set maintains its campy, small town aesthetic, with vintage memorabilia cluttering any available surface.
Apart from the set, Fregoli uses other visual components to play up the magical-realist elements of the story. In one scene, a drunk Geryon is passed out face first on a table in a hole-in-the-wall Argentinian café while a velvet-clad flamenco dancer tangoes seductively around the dimly lit stage. The dancer, of unknown name and gender, then proceeds to speak with Geryon once he awakes about a school trip he once took to an aquarium where he saw a tank full of beluga whales and how guilty they made him feel. Whether the dancer is real or imagined is unclear, but, in Red’s juxtaposition of Greek myth with southern Ontario environs, it feels entirely beside the point.
Although each actor delivered an even and moving performance, Cota was the undeniable standout of the show. Cota brought to life a winged red monster who speaks only in poetry in an entirely believable and human way. Geryon’s character is loveable and complicated—heartbreaking and hilarious all at once. Although his grandiose monologues almost always contain some flowery musing about the ocean or the stars, and he speaks at length about his love of German Stoicism and other such pretentious subjects, it is difficult not to be completely enthralled by whatever Geryon happens to be saying, so absorbing is Cota’s portrayal of him.
Autobiography of Red is the story of a soulful Greek monster who grew up somewhere between Hades and the Kawartha Lakes. It is a strange and intricate tale of love, trauma, and the peculiarity of growing up. Geryon’s story will undoubtedly worm its way into the audience’s hearts, and stick around for days after leaving the theatre.
TNC’s Autobiography of Red is playing from Feb. 28 – March 3 at 8 p.m. in Morrice Hall in the Islamic Studies Building, 3485 Rue McTavish. Tickets are $6 for students and $10 general admission.