Year of the Rat is a series of four digital works presented by Factory Theatre and streamed live from the homes of its four creators. Under the direction of Nina Lee Aquino, each artist explores the concept of home, made precarious from within the context of pandemic isolation.
2020 was the titular year of the rat and the rodent makes an appearance in each story. The distinct voices of these artists compliment each other. Their individual experiences are linked by thematic, textual and aesthetic motifs. A few reference each other explicitly, but more often it is echoed phrases given new meaning from shifting context.
In Abuelita, Abuelita, with a quietly persuasive persona that feels very cosy, Rosa Laborde tells us about her grandmother—a professor and activist in Chile before her exile as a “difficult woman.” Through photos and evocative anecdotes, Loborde paints a loving and vivid portrait of an intimate icon.
Her abuelita’s final words—a request not to move because home, despite imperfections and inconveniences, is to be cherished—have her stuck in an apartment with rats, wailing pipes and the looming threat of potentially awful AirBNB guests below. She eventually finds solace in a new-found interpretation of home.
In a fierce change of pace, Augusto Bitter’s Stairway to Heaven is manic and frenetic. Though crammed in the doorway at the bottom of some stairs, he gives the impression of careering wildly in all directions.
Frantic to be out the door for a night of karaoke, he rifles through a small mountain of footwear, but each pair triggers a memory. He tickles us with quick, colourful details of sexual escapades and key relationships. His Venezuelan-Dutch ancestry figures prominently.
The shaky camera zoom-ins on the mundane details of the space are surprisingly poignant. Pondering death—and even the lesser burden of, say, just moving from a place he’s called home—the cracks in the wainscoting and pockmarked paint take on a haunting significance.
Also, as he presses his face into close-up, there is a Fellini-esque intensity of EYES and MOUTH and I am here for it!
Charlotte Corbeil-Coleman’s Want Now playfully examines the tension between the artifice of theatrical craft and the humanity that lurks beneath. Shut up in her attic, the actor and playwright grapples with motherhood, the loss of her own mother—twice!, and the discomfiting realization that life is, in many ways, a performance.
After her mother’s passing and the subsequent play she crafted about the experience, she finds a secondary mother-figure in fellow actor-playwright, Linda Griffiths. With tenderness and humour, Corbeil-Coleman offers insightful glimpses into the women who have helped shape her as a person and an artist.
She has a knack for whimsical, telling movements. She’ll often end sentences with an expressive, succinct gesture that hits perfectly where mere words might fall flat.
Also, this line really stuck: “If you give the audience truth, they will recognize it.” And I did.
Anita Majumdar’s Candice the Cosmic Snitch seems, at first, to be an outlier. Her piece is fictional. Though, upon reflection, it does fluidly expand upon the previous entry’s idea of performative life.
Candice is an aspiring Instagram influencer. It seems she’s trying to mask her Indian identity with a gaudy blond wig and colour contact lenses. Her overall vibe is kinda trashy, but I connected with the character as her crafted superficiality starts to crack with the reveal of an unhappy marriage.
I only ever saw the first of Majumdar’s Fish Eyes trilogy, so I’m not entirely sure I’m right about this, but Candice and husband Buddy seemed to be a spin-off from that storyline.
In all four pieces, domestic items serve as props with dramatic purpose, delicately blurring the line between reality and art. Even the rustle of fabric across a performer’s mic adds sensual texture and pulls us in. And knowing these performances are live gives them an urgency a more controlled, polished pre-recording might have lacked.