2nd from Bottom

Looking For América (Online review)

Following my online visit to Chronic Insanity’s 52 Souls on Monday I popped back to the second showing yesterday just to see how things developed. I won’t re-review as it is  more of the same  but, of course also very different. However,  I just wanted to record my respect for Joe Strickland’s prowess in learning all those scripts and being able to reproduce any one of them at literally the turn of a card. My earlier cynicism has evaporated to be replaced by admiration.

I registered a couple of false starts with Edinburgh Fringe content last night. I was due to be watching a live show called Nights In With Dickens And Poe, but this was over Zoom and Zoom wasn’t playing ball deciding it didn’t want my presence. By the time matters righted themselves a significant chunk had been missed. In any case it became apparent that this was the second of three episodes of Oliver Twist streamed on successive Tuesdays and I really didn’t want to start in the middle. So, I headed for a piece called What Are We Watching? This was also a product of Zoom but recorded Zoom. The title card told me that this was an extract of a longer work and as I don’t tend to cover works in progress I decided to move on.

Third time lucky found me Looking For América from Once Off Productions. Now don’t, as I admit I did, make assumptions about this show based on a glance at the title. The observant will have noticed the accent above the “e” of the last word, and this is important because this makes it into a person’s name rather than the USA; part of this narrative performance is about a search for a particular individual. That said certain actions taken by those in power in Washington do have a significant effect. Federico Julián González, the performer and subject of this biographical piece, has, by any standards, had an eventful life. Before he reached school age his family fled strife torn El Salvador for a new life in Venezuela. González’s father, a doctor, returned to his country to help the freedom fighters and the young boy did not see him again for 11 years; the rest of the family roamed other areas of central America until finally settling in Havana, Cuba. Eventually González found himself in that well known Latin American city of Dublin – but that’s a whole other story.

Although the narrative is one of trauma, stress and a constant battle for safety, González is a genial narrator who pulls the audience in through sheer force of personality. He may not be an actor but he certainly knows how to command attention through some expertly simple staging from fellow writer and director Janet Moran. The piece is split into chapters  which are interspersed with some nifty Latin American dance moves against a backdrop of context giving slides. There is a central section which leaves the particular narrative in abeyance while the show examines the (almost) current situation with regard to refugees – though obviously the recording does not reference the latest events in Afghanistan. While this is perhaps a pity – if it were live I’m sure something would have been added –  it does make this piece a very timely watch. The facts that are presented are given more weight via the lens of González’s own story; his first hand testimony has the ability to put a true perspective on events: “History is written by people who weren’t there. Memory tells a different kind of truth.” Indeed! González carries the small red suitcase with which he evacuated El Salvador and which has stayed with him ever since. It is, in effect, a portable storehouse for his memories which he shares with us in this intriguing and highly pertinent show.


Today’s bonus Scenes For Survival piece: Squeezy Yoghurt by Bea Webster follows the well rehearsed form of one character on a video conference call opening up to another (unseen). What differentiates this piece is that it is performed by Brooklyn Melvyn in BSL, though there is an audio described version for those, like me, who need it.

Looking For América is available via the Edinburgh Fringe Festival click here

Scenes For Survival pieces are available from the NTS website – click here; a number are also available on BBC iPlayer – click here

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