Martha Chaves is bringing her one-woman show In Times of Trouble to Live! on Elgin in Ottawa, from May 26–28, 2016.
The Nicaraguan-Canadian comic and actor draws partly on her own experiences to tell the story of a lesbian returning to Guatemala to look after her ill mother. Chaves tells us more in this edited interview.
Daily Xtra: What was it like debuting In Times of Trouble at the Caminos Festival in Toronto last year?
Martha Chaves: It was great. It was directed by Beatriz Pizano, who is a Dora Award–winner and has a lot of theatre experience. All the daughter in the [play] wants is her mother’s acceptance. That’s the purpose of the play. No matter how far away I lived from my mother, since I left Nicaragua I always wanted her approval and acceptance. The play is not only about the exile of countries, but also about the exile of gay people from their families.
How would you describe In Times of Trouble?
It is about trying to find your way home. Your mother is your first home and the story is basically about a mother and a daughter. The daughter’s a lesbian and the mother’s a fundamental Christian who is dying. There is love between them, but the daughter doesn’t feel her mother has loved her as she wants to be loved.
You’re a queer woman of colour who moved from Nicaragua to Canada at age 17 on your own. What stands out most to you about survival and fighting oppression?
If I had known then all I had to face I probably wouldn’t do it. I think it was ignorance. It was the instinct of survival. I have been very fortunate and I have maybe not seen racism. When I first worked at [a clothing store] in Montreal I remember they used to call me the “little Mexican” on the loudspeaker. But I didn’t know it was racist (laughs). I was just happy that I had customers. They called me when they had Spanish customers in the store.
When my parents left Nicaragua they left with the clothes on their backs and with three young children, my siblings. My father died two years later. Both my parents were lawyers and worked very hard. My uncle was in the military with the dictatorship. They had to flee because we were related to that guy. They didn’t have any money put away, nothing. When my father died my mother had three kids to feed in a foreign country and at 65 years old she became a lawyer again [in Guatemala]. I really have a lot to thank for that woman because I inherited her spirit and her example.
What’s it like performing a one-woman play versus doing standup?
In the one-woman play I have the luxury of not having to have a laugh every 30 seconds. If they don’t laugh, it’s poetry! But I’ll tell you I was surprised by how many laughs I got.