The Tropic of X demands you to open your eyes

Caridad Svich’s bold dreamscape shatters preconceptions

Stepping into the theatre feels personal. You are a guest in experiences that may or may not parallel your own. If one thing’s for certain, it is the fact that you are a tourist here, and the people on the stage will not let you forget that. They know you are watching them. You are a temporary voyeur, and they strive to make you uncomfortable.

Initially premiering in Germany in 2007, Montreal’s Centaur Theatre hosts The Tropic of X, written by Caridad Svich and directed by Sophie Gee. The play follows lovers Maura (Arlen Aguayo) and Mori (Braulio Elicer) “in a touristed wasteland at the end of the alphabet.” When people sweep things under the rug, this is where the crumbs go. Welcome to under the rug.

The characters stare back at you and snicker as you seat yourself. They sit, legs dangling, on a graffiti-covered wall. They judge you. Behind them are mountains of trash loosely stuffed into transparent plastic bags. All the waste is laid out for you to see. There is nowhere to hide here. The play charges forward with blatant and unabashed honesty.

The characters speak at you. They do not lean on props. They have themselves; their bodies and tongues have become their instruments. Their words are concise and ruthless. The protagonists, Maura and Mori, move about this world erratically, characterized by simulated mania and essential codependency. Together they swirl in an ever-evolving landscape littered with cultural leftovers so generously donated by the American Dream.

“The language of the colonizer creates the most complete and effective of prisons, the prison which controls thought and expression.”

The program quotes theatrologist, Marvin Carlson, who wrote about the play in his paper, Which Language Do They Want Me To Speak?. Carlson emphasizes that while the characters speak in “la lingua franca,” a bridge-language between two groups that do not share a mother tongue, their words do not belong to the Indigenous languages of the land they live on. Rather, they speak a pidgin of Spanish and English––languages imported and imposed by colonizers.

The Tropic of X confronts colonialism, capitalism and consumerism through aggressive poetry and whispered pillow talk. It’s mesmerizing. It’s romantic. And yet, it is impossible to forget that this is a love story about getting lost and sinking into a reality that eats you up and sucks the marrow from your bones.

This play demands your respect. It’s heavy, raw and impossible to preface because when you buy a ticket, you are paying to be screamed at. You are going to listen to a love story filled to the brim with disgust, broken promises, and disappointment so ingrained in society that it has become commonplace. The characters fight pernicious hopes that poison their minds with insidious notions of better tomorrows.

Svich creates a narrative that asks us to look at what we have done. They ask us to question problems that were never meant to be solved, that have been perpetuated since their origin. In a blog post about The Tropic of X  with Associate Artist Cristina Cugliandro, they write: “The play itself – how it is written – is an act of resistance.” Svich reminds us with every sharp word that this is not just a story.

This is today. This is yesterday. The Tropic of X is still bitterly relevant 13 years later.  



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Illustration by Sarah Gonzales, Courtesy of Erin Lindsay

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