"I imagine the actual production as either in a very small black box, very intimate; or a big costumed epic with a huge staircase," says playwright Bruce Gibbons Fell of his play Paradise Red which is having a staged reading as part of the De Colores Festival of New Works by Latin-Canadian Playwrights. "The stage directions say 'no realism in the sets' but either way they should go crazy with the shoulder pads and hair."
Paradise Red is billed by the festival as a "dark telenovela" and Fell agrees, "The gay references come directly from telenovelas, like Dynasty they are over the top. I call it bi-polar realism, a lot of things that would not happen, happen and the characters talk in an exaggerated aggressive way. Their desires are beyond the usual psychology of a play. There are high, high stakes involved, everyone has horrible problems but they are fabulous."
Fell knows of what he writes, he grew up in a privileged conservative Chilean family with direct connections to the ruling dictatorship. "There was no hate speech at home but it was very intense," says Fell. Much like telenovela or Dynasty diva heroines, "My grandmother is funny and scary at the same time. Actually to Canadians she'd probably just be scary." Fell trained as a lawyer in Chile before despairing that the system was irreparably corrupt and he became a playwright. "Chile is a very stressful place to live, especially for the creative classes. You have to live a closeted life, don't ask and don't tell. The military and church, and the church has a lot of political clout, are homophobic. Here you tell your boss you are gay and he hugs you for Pride."
Paradise Red "has a lot of homoerotic desire," says Fell. "In 2003 Chile had it's first gay character in a telenovela. That changed things a lot. Mainly because he was the hottest actor on TV. But things are still really messed up there. Same-sex marriage is a long way away, divorce has only been legal for ten years. I see Canada as a utopia, probably more than it is. I came to Canada for love and for a long time I was scared to say, 'This is my boyfriend.' We've been here a while but we're still not used to not living the Chilean lifestyle which is more private."
Fell is excited for the reading and grateful for the support of the festival's organizers, the Almeda Theatre Company. "It's amazing to work with people who are so passionate," says Fell. "Everyone in Canada is so open, open to collaboration, open to ideas. In Chile it is very competitive." He laughs, "Maybe it's just that famous Canadian politeness. This is my first play in English, the first part of a trilogy on life under the dictatorship. I sound Canadian when I talk but I'm very ESL, there are two languages fighting in my head all the time." Fortunately one of the languages is passionate dramatic Chilean Spanish which makes Paradise Red translate into "a big campy dark telenovela."
Paradise Red gets a staged reading on Wed, Oct 16 at the Wychwood Theatre, 601 Christie St, Wychwood Arts Barns, as part of the De Colores Festival of New Works by Latin-Canadian Playwrights running Wed, Oct 16 to Fri, Oct 18. alamedatheatre.com