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Beatriz Pizano in Dividing Lines.Jeremy Mimnagh

  • Title: Dividing Lines/Lineas Divisorias
  • Written and performed by: Beatriz Pizano
  • Director: Trevor Schwellnus
  • Company: Aluna Theatre
  • Venue: The Theatre Centre
  • City: Toronto
  • Year: Runs to Dec. 2, 2018


2.5 out of 4 stars

Female actor Beatriz Pizano’s new autobiographical solo show is about a life that has been divided between two places: Colombia, where she was born, and Canada, the country where she immigrated in 1979.

However, Dividing Lines/Lineas Divisorias, created for Pizano’s Latin-Canadian theatre company Aluna Theatre, is equally concerned with a death divided between two countries – the lingering death of her mother in Colombia as viewed from Canada, where the culture and the laws surrounding dying (and assisted dying) are different.

“This isn’t a drama,” Pizano tells us at the start. “This is a conversation about dying.”

Despite the heavy subject matter, Pizano, who recently won a Dora Mavor Moore Award for her hair-raising, heightened performance in Federico Garcia Lorca’s Blood Wedding, is a charming conversationalist.

Much of Dividing Lines allows her to talk to an audience in a more direct way about who she is and where she comes from.

Pizano’s birth mother died when she was 2 years old, and her birth father was mostly absent from her life. (She calls her father the “Marlboro man” because he was the model in a cigarette ad in Colombia - and rode off into the sunset.) She was eventually adopted by her father’s sister, Julia, and her husband, Jorge - and they became her mother and father.

Along with two sets of parents, Pizano soon had two countries and two languages when a husband brought her to Canada the year that Joe Clark became prime minister. That marriage lasted only slightly longer than Clark did in the prime minister’s office.

Decades later, Jorge has passed away and Julia is in a nursing home with Alzheimer’s disease in Colombia - and Pizano has to handle her care from a continent away. On one visit, Pizano meets a doctor who offers to help her bring an end to her mother’s suffering. (I wish Pizano’s play had been a little clearer about what exactly is and is not legal in terms of assisted dying in Colombia versus Canada.)

As a former Catholic and avowed atheist who nevertheless keeps the Jesus Christ Superstar soundtrack on her phone, Pizano explores her complicated relationship with religion and the afterlife. “Even though I don’t believe in God, I start every sentence with, ‘I have a confession to make,’ ” she tells us. “Especially after a drink.”

As Pizano travels with her mother from the nursing home to the doctor and back again in an ambulance over and over, she grapples with the rights and wrongs of it. But when she whispers to her mother to ask God to take her one night, Julia opens her eyes and slaps her.

Director and designer Trevor Schwellnus fills the stage behind and under Pizano with projections, including a map of the Americas turned 90 degrees to give a new perspective as to how the continents connect. He’s rigged up a camera over a table, where Pizano places family pictures, meaningful jewelry and documents relevant to the story she’s telling, and we see them enlarged behind her.

Some of the most moving moments in Dividing Lines involve Pizano interacting with the audience, with whom she quickly develops genuine rapport. At one point, she asks spectators to share any physical photos they might be carrying with them - and one woman burst into tears upon seeing her own mother’s face blown up and projected.

At the climax of her play, Pizano asks if someone in the audience can translate certain lines into English that she feels comfortable saying only in Spanish to everyone else. This call and response has the feeling of a religious ritual; it’s intimate and beautiful.

Still, Dividing Lines feels as if it needs more work from a structural point of view. It can be difficult to follow all the jumps in time and space; they either need to be set up more clearly, or the material should be presented more chronologically. There are parts where Pizano’s monologue really sings – and others where it lags. The ending that comes after her mother’s death fits uneasily with the rest of the show.

But for audiences who have enjoyed Pizano’s work on stage over the years, this is a welcome opportunity to get to know the person behind the passionate performer.

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