Rosa Laborde hasn’t lived it, but her mother did. Augusto Pinochet’s harrowing regime began while Chile was still reeling from the food shortages, 500 percent inflation, and national chaos brought about by international boycotts of the country after it democratically elected the Marxist government of Salvador Allende.
Leo, the play, begins during the romanticized Marxist era, in the early 1970s. It chronicles the history and love triangle of three characters, told mainly in flashbacks. The play follows the man Leo, his best friend Rodrigo and his girlfriend Isolda from adolescence to the politically dangerous Allende years. The frenzied nation serves as a backdrop in Rosa Laborde’s story, as Allende’s rule ends in a military coup that leaves the president dead of suicide, the country in turmoil. Reflecting the state of politics around them, the group of friends is faced with the disappointment and downfall of their high-pitched ideals.
“The play is about mixing personal politics with a country’s politics,” says playwright Rosa Laborde. “Allende was interested in keeping the wealth that was Chileans’, so I looked at sharing in a relationship. But sharing takes work, and if we can’t do it on a personal level, we can’t do it on a national level either. Leo is very much a hedonist sensualist and his closest friends are very politically active.”
The main character, Leo, is a mouthpiece for change. He becomes one of los desaparecidos or a victim of forced disappearance. During his country’s tumultuous political times, his own life is forced into a turbulent love triangle between Leo, Rodrigo Isolda (played by Salvatore Antonio, Jason Cadieux and Michelle Monteith). Leo has strong feelings for both of them.
“Leo’s need to speak is the need to be seen and to have the story told. He is in love with the best friend’s girlfriend and also his best friend. In the play, Leo is a poet trying to find out who he is. There is no way he can escape politics in his public life, because Rodrigo is extremely politically active. He pretends that he cares so much about it, but he doesn’t really — he only cares about his own, personal pleasure,” says Laborde.
The play is also an interesting piece of theatre in that it deals with an elusive underlying theme of bisexuality, which complements the overall personal/political dichotomy in the play.
“Leo is fully bi. He wonders why he should have a favourite if what he feels is an intense attraction to both characters. Rodrigo is in the closet, in a time and place where views were extremely catholic, extremely macho machisto. If Rodrigo were a politician, he would be one of those men who is married but secretly lives another life. Because he can never be who he is,” says Laborde.
In the Chile of the 1970s, she adds, it was illegal to be gay, and several years before that, they would have been killed.
The play’s subject matter hits especially close to home for Laborde, whose relatives were exiled after the Allende coup, during Pinochet’s gruesome regime.
“I have been [to Chile] quite a bit and my mother and grandmother were exiles; they were exiled after the coup, and it is a big part of my identity,” says Laborde.
The artistic elements of the play are very important to its theatrical realization, in creating an atmosphere that adequately reflects a place that most of us have little knowledge about. Set and costume designer Deeter Schurig, created a postmodern masterpiece of a set.
“The set is really extraordinary, it moves through time so much, it has a dreamlike quality. It’s what we see through Leo’s eyes. It had to be everywhere and nowhere all at once. It is very liquidy,” says Laborde.
“Schurig created this shard of different coloured glass, with a Chilean flag on it. I would never have pictured what he did. It’s really exciting. The costumes, for the era, are as close to perfect as possible. They are school uniforms, to reflect the devout Catholic school system.”
The production at the Great Canadian Theatre Company is somewhat different for Laborde, as this is the play’s second run (Leo debuted last February at the Tarragon Theatre in Toronto). Laborde explains how the second production is different for her.
“During the first production, you’re writing right up until the opening. But now that the play has been published, I have 50-50 [input] on casting. I give my opinion about certain things and sometimes they care and sometimes they don’t,” says Laborde.