LEO by Rosa Laborde, directed by Richard Rose, with Salvatore Antonio, Sergio Di Zio and Cara Pifko. Tarragon Extra Space (30 Bridgman). Previews through February 12, opens February 14 and runs to March 19, Tuesday-Saturday and February 26 at 8 pm, matinees Saturday-Sunday (except February 11 and 25) 2:30 pm. $24-$29, Sunday pwyc-$15, previews $16. 416-531-1827. Rating: NNNNN
For most people, mention of 9/11 conjures up the horror of the Twin Towers.
But Chileans have an equally grim memory, for on September 11, 1973, the socialist government of Salvador Allende was overthrown in a military coup that established the brutal rule of Augusto Pinochet.
Allende's hopeful regime and the dictatorship of Pinochet, under which thousands of Chileans "disappeared," provide the background for Rosa Laborde's striking play Léo.
Focusing on three young people, the title figure and his friends Rodrigo and Isolda, Laborde's script resonates on several levels. It tells the story of a romantic triangle whose vectors of interest move in various directions. Rodrigo is a powerful speaker in favour of the Allende government; Léo defines himself as a poet and consciously eschews political affiliation.
But politics has private as well as public ramifications, and none of the figures can avoid being drawn into the swirl of national change.
Laborde, whose Chilean mother had to leave the country when Pinochet came to power, was inspired to write the piece while doing volunteer work in Thailand with toddlers born with HIV.
"The situation reminded me so much of South America, the disparity between my North American life and that of others who had so much more or so much less.
"I thought about idealistic people who hope to change the world, like those Chileans who were optimistic when Allende was elected. It hit home for me that you could be young and idealistic and still have all that taken away."
Paired with the idealism, though, was the thought of wanting pleasure, of having a voracious sensual and acquisitive appetite. How, wondered Laborde, was that desire fed in a person who's also conscious of wanting social change? The result is the character of Léo, caught between friends and political ideals, who "paints a rose-coloured glass over his existence to make sense of his experience.
"If someone 'disappears'," muses Laborde over a mug of echinacea tea, "where do they go? The first images I saw were of the sea - blue, green, eating the person alive. To me, that's the nothingness of the Bermuda Triangle, which according to some doesn't exist.
"Yet there's also the literature that talks about the Triangle as a sea of spirituality over the lost Atlantis. And the dual sides of the image proved a rich place to start my play."
The troubled Léo always deals with triangles, continues Laborde, an actor (Svengali, Two Words) as well as a writer (Sugar).
"The first is with his parents, as he tries to return their love while feeling outside it. That's mirrored in his most important friendships; he wants to be part of relationships from which he feels excluded.
"Léo always wants to be an arm of the triangle, but it has to be equilateral; he doesn't want be the short side of an isosceles triangle."
Léo and his two friends are all from the middle class. Rodrigo's "the beautiful, winning, intelligent, driven child" who knows how to use his skills and believes change is possible.
"Isolda oscillates between the two men," continues Laborde, whose script began as a brief Rhubarb! piece before its development in the Tarragon Playwrights Unit. "Like many young women in their teens, she doesn't yet know who she is. Men hide their uncertainty, but women roll with it and try different things to figure out where they're going."