Sebastian Ochoa Mendoza
I had never travelled so far to catch a work of theatre before. The Massey Theatre is located about two cities over from Vancouver, in what appeared to be a High School. When I opened the front door to find a High School gym, I insisted that we must’ve been in the wrong place. But alas, we arrived to the theatre, instantly impressed with the quality of the space. The theatre wasn’t very full at all, I’d say less than half of the seats were sold, and, after having seen Dulcinea Langfelder & Co’s Victoria, this is terribly unfortunate.
Victoria, starring veteran actress Dulcinea Langfelder and Éric Gingras, is about an elderly woman in a wheelchair, ranting and talking and interacting with the objects around her, be it the chair, the set, the audience, even her own shadow. I don’t know enough about the conditions the elderly suffer to be able to accurately describe what was happening in the protagonist’s head behind all of her silly antics. As a result, I wouldn’t exactly be able to say if the setting was a hospital for the old, the mentally disabled or the ill. I would have attended the Q&A if it weren’t such a hassle getting back to Vancouver at that hour. The only other character in the show was her nurse, a large European man who is driven crazy by Victoria throughout the production. When I realised the whole play was of a woman sitting alone on her wheelchair, talking to herself and to the audience, I was skeptical towards my enjoyment. I love plays that are confined to one set and a few characters, but for it to be held mostly by just one actress seemed almost impossible to be entertaining from beginning to end. Not only was it just that, but it was also simultaneously endearing and tragic at the same time. We watch in amazement as this sixty-two year-old woman does incredible tricks on her wheelchair, keeping it up in a wheelie for a good three minutes, and stuns us with her angelic singing voice and dancing. One highlight was when she turned her hospital garment into a cocktail dress, and showcasing her 1960’s glamour. Another was when the nurse carries her body around as he dances to Irving Berlin’s “Cheek to Cheek”, making Victoria’s body dance along with him as she gives out a deadpan expression. Truly remarkable.
The setting was very well done. It was a number of white curtains, laid out across the stage, being moved from place to place to change the space from scene to scene. At times they were pushed to the side to make a lot of space for the actors to sing and dance, while in other scenes the stage would be cut in half, and the characters would subsequently interact with the sheets. Often times, a curtain on the stage would work as a backdrop for the characters’ shadows. Images of their shadows would be projected onto the curtain, so they could have a life of their own. For instance, in one scene, as Victoria would stay seated, her shadow would be standing on the wheelchair, so we could peek inside and explore the mind of this fascinating woman.
There were a few hiccups here and there that took the audience out of the moment. The human eye is very quick to find synchronization problems, so whenever the actors would be trying to completely mimic the projected shadow’s actions, it only made it more obvious that the shadow was projected and not natural. Langfelder was better at this than Gingras, but not quite good enough to make it a flawless illusion. Though this would be hard to prevent, I would say the effect should only be used in shadow-heavy scenes. There’s an early scene in which Victoria mimics the projected shadow for a few minutes, the shadow only doing its own thing at the very end, and barely. For a scene like that, I wouldn’t say it was a cool enough effect to be worth two minutes of the audience thinking “Well that shadow’s fake”. Even worse, the projector showed us a PC desktop for a split second before projecting the shadow, which drew me right out. In other scenes, especially those in which Victoria is seen playing and interacting with the curtains, I was never really sure when something was supposed to happen, if a curtain was supposed to get stuck to her wheelchair. Or in another scene, if Victoria was meant to have dropped the nurse’s flashlight. That being said, when doing basically a one-woman show with that amount of props and set pieces, mistakes are inevitable, and if those instances mentioned were mistakes, the actors played them off very well. Langfelder, needless to say, was brilliant in the role. She’d have to be if this show had any hope of being any good. We sympathise with her, we laugh with her, we cry with her. A phenomenal actress, and a flawless performance. When Gingras’ character first appeared, I was worried about his part in the whole thing. His entrance seemed a tad over-dramatic, with a very ‘50s sitcom “What have you done this time?” look to the audience. After seeing the show, the perfect word I think I’d use to describe him is endearing. His performance was endearing; above all the trouble she puts him through, it’s clear he truly cares for Victoria, just as I’m sure the actors care about each other in real life.
Victoria is a beautiful production that shouldn’t be missed. I took two buses and a train to get all the way back to UBC, and I held a smile for pretty much all of it.