Optimistically Cautious

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Theatre: "Lost in Traffic"

Following dinner, we headed to the Myer Horowitz Theatre at the University of Alberta (8900 114 Street) to watch Quebec-based Theatre Parminou's production of Lost in Traffic. The purpose of this interactive, social activist play was to: "increase public awareness of the traffic of women and children."

Four very versatile actors and one "game leader" presented various scenarios involving the trafficking of women, including: a sly American attempting to convince a young girl to leave her home to become an international model; a lonely man about to head abroad to marry essentially a mail-order bride; and a matriarch defending her decision to isolate and contain her foreign-born housekeeper for decades. In between anecdotes, the game leader would step on stage, either to provide more information, or in some cases, stopping the action altogether during the scenes themselves in order to poll the audience for possible interventions to prevent the trafficking from occurring.

I really liked the set design that involved five wooden trunks used as props throughout the show. They visually represented the theme of displacement, and can even be seen as a metaphysical reference to the theatre group's own nomadic travels as they bring the show to campuses across the country. I also found the play to be appropriately educational, such as the 2004 change to the exotic dancer immigration clause.

The game leader was an interesting concept, and although I realize the rationale for the role was to encourage audience investment by allowing for the illusion of influence and control, a more effective means to this end would have been a complete storyline where the audience could build empathy through more natural processes.

Moreover, it seemed to me that the scenarios boiled the subject of trafficking down to stereotypical character profiles on both sides - the innocent-girl-turned-prostitute, the housemaid who cannot speak the language, and the stubborn Canadians who refuse to believe that the problem exists on North American soil. Of course, my own knowledge is limited, so who am I to say that such common beliefs don't actually reflect realities? Still, at times, the production felt like a play written to fulfill the requirements of a class project.

In the end, I was expecting suggestions or ideas on how we, the public, could help with the prevention of human trafficking. Unfortunately, the bottom line provided was just to 'spread the word' and to advocate on behalf of those without voices. Yes, it's now left in the hands of the audience, but I would have appreciated something more concrete than "speak."


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