Concordia student leads cast and crew in production of Autobiography of Red
Phoebe Fregoli, a Concordia creative writing and women’s studies student, was drawn to McGill University’s Tuesday Night Cafe (TNC) Theatre by their 24-hour playwriting competition. After receiving critical acclaim for her play Be Tween—which was expanded into a full production early last year—she was inspired to adapt one of her favourite novels, Autobiography of Red, into a play for her follow-up production.
Fregoli’s biggest challenge was turning the verse novel into a traditional dialogue format. She left the majority of Anne Carson’s original words intact while writing the play, only adding or changing them when adapting the story to a different platform.
Autobiography of Red is a loose adaptation of the ancient Greek myth of Herakles’ Tenth Labour Cattle of Geryon, wherein Herakles travels to the far-off island of Erytheia to retrieve Geryon’s cattle, slaughtering the winged monster, Geryon, and his two-headed dog in the process. Carson’s 1998 novel modernizes the myth into a metaphorical coming-of-age tale. Now, the focus is on Geryon, a young winged boy coming to terms with his sexuality and abusive childhood while ending up in a love triangle with Herakles and his lover, Ancash.
Most of the cast learned about auditions through Facebook and jumped at the opportunity to connect with such a powerful and beloved story. José Camargo, who just finished his undergraduate degree in philosophy and psychology at McGill, was able to connect very closely with his character, Ancash, because of the similarities between Ancash’s homeland of Peru and his own homeland of Colombia.
“I think the play is a celebration of queerness in particular, but also just being different in general,” Camargo said. “It celebrates that not everyone is the same—that not everybody has to follow the script that society imposes on you.”
Mich Cota, a massive fan of the novel, was delighted to hear about the play and speechless when she was eventually cast in the lead role. “It’s so nice to come so close to this book in such a big way,” she said. “It’s just such a beautiful experience for me.”
TNC is a student-run theatre company associated with McGill’s English department but open to students from other universities. The theatre encourages experimental and subversive plays focusing on issues of diversity and underrepresented voices in Quebec.
The theatre itself is a small, intimate affair, seating only about 30 people. Red lights illuminate the room as an operatic score sets the mood for what is to come.
The set design is simple, with a large bed being a mainstay on the left side of the stage, while kitchen tables, café chairs and patio porches get swapped around with efficiency for each new location. Simple sound effects, elaborate lighting cues, some convincing pantomimes and a hefty dose of imagination on the audience’s part help transform the small stage into a delightfully engaging sight. It’s simple in presentation but complex in its design.
Much of the show is anchored in Cota’s delicate and innocent portrayal of Geryon, who slowly matures over the course of the production. Every single character in this show is played with depth and reverence. Annah-Lauren Bloom’s Mother is overwhelmed but always loving as she cares for Cota’s Geryon and Connor Miles’s headstrong Brother. She is offered only a few brief moments of respite by Seraphina Lewin’s warm and protective Babysitter. Geryon’s trip to Peru brings him in contact with Alex Huard’s evocative Tango, a dancer who offers some helpful words, as well as a brief romantic fling with a charming waiter, played by Rafaël Khoury. Jess Waters’ Grandmother offers some of the show’s funniest moments with her dry wit and always controlling demeanor.
“We’ve spent a lot of time building up these emotional frameworks through which to understand each other’s characters and through which to make something available to the audience,” said Stephen Lawrence, who plays Herakles. He is currently finishing his thesis in media studies at Concordia. “I think, if you invest in this experience, there’s a lot there to unpack as a viewer.”
“I feel extremely lucky,” Fregoli said. “Lucky to be surrounded by a group of individuals as hardworking, positive, committed, talented and creative as we have here in this production.”
Autobiography of Red plays from Feb. 28 to March 3 at the TNC Theatre on McGill’s downtown campus. More information can be found on the play’s Facebook event page.
Photos by Sadie Mallon