Review: El Refugio de Freidel (Aluna Theatre)

Liliana Suarez Henao photo by Dahlia Katz“Honest, raw” one-woman show plays on the Toronto stage

Aluna Theatre‘s El Refugio de Freidel / The Refuge of Freidel, on now at The Theatre Centre as part of Progress was so nuanced — yet intense — I’m still not quite sure what to say about it.

I’ll try my best to encapsulate the myriad layers of themes and emotions I experienced tonight, namely forced immigration, sadness, theatre, violence, humour, and the resilience of women.

Upon entering The Theatre Centre‘s incubator space –- where I’ve witnessed at least one other incredible, experimental show -– I noticed what I think was a time-lapse projection on the wall of the audience filing in. Cool, I thought, and exactly the kind of uniqueness I’ve come to enjoy at The Theatre Centre.

The lights dim, and the show starts with a projected quote in both Spanish and English. Sadly –- and this is the only slight negative my companion Caryhn and I found with the show -– it wasn’t up long enough for me to fully absorb it or see the author’s name, or for Caryhn to even finish reading it. I believe it was a quote by the play’s namesake, Jose Manuel Freidel (about whom I could find very little online written in English).

El Refugio de Freidel is a one-woman show, performed by the incredibly giving and powerful Liliana Suarez Henao, about displacement, loss, love, expression, art, and finding refuge. It’s about physical, literal, spiritual, and figurative refuge – in a violent, unjust, and unkind world. But it’s also much more than that.

To me it was an incredibly honest, raw, emotional look at the realities facing immigrants to Canada, state-sponsored violence, the violence of racism and exclusion, and losing/finding oneself, through the eyes of a theatre artist. It also touched on the complexities of being a woman, and an artist, in a world that so often devalues both.

It was also a beautiful tribute to Freidel, considered a very controversial figure in contemporary Colombian theatre. I found it profoundly sad and touching, yet told with humour, joy, and passion. I  was impressed with the creative use of video, projection, and lighting, and with the seemingly spontaneous and delightful audience interaction near the end. I wish we’d sat up front.

While the show was surtitled (it’s delivered almost entirely in Spanish), and my research into Freidel was mostly fruitless, I am not complaining. Nor would I change that aspect. There were definitely a few moments that were either not translated (such as songs), and culturally inaccessible to a Non-Colombian/South American audience.

Neither Caryhn nor myself felt that this took away from the show at all. I actually felt like there was secret joke we didn’t get to be in on. We, the privileged audience who almost always gets to access whatever we want, whenever we want. I don’t know if that was the intention, but I really enjoyed being a tiny bit out of the loop while the rest of the audience laughed together.

This was a short performance, and I don’t want to give away all of the details. If you can keep up with surtitles (I found them to be a reasonable pace – slow enough to read and still scan the actor’s face for emotion), and are at all interested in one of the vast number of Canadian immigrant stories, go see El Refugio de Freidel / The Refuge of Freidel. There are only three more shows, and I won’t be surprised if they sell out.


    • El Refugio de Freidel / The Refuge of Freidel is playing until January 23, 2016 at The Theatre Centre (1115 Queen Street West)
    • Shows run Thursday and Friday at 7pm, with an additional matinee on Saturday at 3:30pm
    • Ticket prices range from $20 – $25 and are available online, or through the box office at 416-538-0988
    • Note: This performance is in Spanish with English surtitles

Photo of Liliana Suarez Henao by Dahlia Katz