Clean/Espejos: One of the best shows in years

publicity photo for Clean/Espejos

Alexandra Lainfiesta and Genevieve Fleming (Photo by David Markwei)

Clean/Espejos is so good that I’m worried about not doing being able to do it justice in this review.

The script — written by Christine Quintana with translation and adaptation by Paula Zelaya-Cervantes — is an impressively mature work of art that its two characters deliver in Spanish and English in what are, for the most part, overlapping monologues.

Adriana is a floor manager at the Paradise resort in Cancun. Vancouverite Sarah is there for her younger sister Maddy’s destination wedding. When she was 16, Adriana escaped her small town — and family trauma — to work in Cancun. She keeps busy to avoid those memories. When Sarah is overwhelmed, she drinks: shortly after we meet her, we watch her racing against “the blackout countdown”, trying to get to her room before she passes out in the hallway.

Clean/Espejos is always emotionally generous and often funny. Sighing after telling us about one of her mother’s casually racist remarks, Sarah says, “I’m sorry, but Mom’s from the Prairies and there’s only so much we can do.” She’s equally unimpressed by her soon-to-be brother-in-law, who enthusiastically orders “guac sauce!” “because he’s afraid to pronounce guacamole.”

But the real satisfaction — I left this performance feeling full — comes from sinking into the textures of these women’s lives. One of the coolest things about the writing is that the story doesn’t unfold in the traditional, event-driven way; Clean/Espejos is much more like a novel: the characters narrate their own experiences, including flashbacks and fantasy sequences, which gives us open access to their interior selves. We stand beside Adriana as she tries to open herself to the love of a good man named Nicolas — he of the deep brown eyes. And, though its terms aren’t quite articulated yet, we feel teenaged Sarah’s sense of panicked helplessness when she realizes that Maddy is late in returning from an after-school activity.

One of the great strengths of the script is its complexity. The text echoes with Adriana and Sarah’s repetitions of “I’m here, but I’m not here” — but, separated by race and class, they misunderstand one another. That’s nourishingly sophisticated.

And you’re not going to see better performances onstage this year. Alexandra Lainfiesta and Genevieve Fleming fill every word with specific intentions. The spin is dazzling to watch: it’s a master class in delivery. Their performances are witty and vivacious — when Adriana is exasperated, her rolled Rs turn into machine gun fire — and they’re raw when they need to be.

I’ve also got to mention Andie Lloyd’s projection design. If you don’t speak both Spanish and English and you’re wondering how the heck you’re going to understand this show, the answer is not just surtitles, it’s the best surtitles ever. Projected onto the giant-bed backdrop of Shizuka Kai’s set, they contain volumes of meaning, scattering all over the place when ideas are flying, flickering when Adriana is describing candlelight.

Chelsea Haberlin and Daniela Atiencia are the directors who brought all of this together.

Vancouver didn’t make this show. but local artists did. And we can all be proud of them for it.

CLEAN/ESPEJOS By Christine Quintana. Translation and adaptation by Paula Zelaya-Cervantes. Directed by Chelsea Haberlin and Daniela Atiencia. Produced by Neworld Theatre in association with Western Canada Theatre. In The Cultch’s Historic Theatre on Friday, March 11. Running until March 19. Tickets for the theatrical run. Streaming online from April 5 to 10. Online tickets.


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About Colin Thomas

Colin Thomas is a Vancouver-based editor, an award-winning playwright, and an established theatre critic. Colin helps writers unlock the full potential of their novels, short stories, screenplays, and children's books.

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