THE VINDICATION OF SENYORA CLITO MESTRES by Montserrat Roig, directed by Chris Abraham, with Dragana Varagic. Presented by April Productions at the Theatre Centre (1087 Queen West). Previews tonight (Thursday, October 25), opens Friday (October 26) and runs to November 11, Tuesday-Sunday 8 pm. $12-$15. 416-504-7529. Rating: NNNNN
dragana varagic sits at a makeuptable facing a mirror, the table's surface strewn with makeup and scripts. A sherry glass adds some elegance to the disorder.She's on the set of her latest project, The Vindication Of Senyora Clito Mestres, a solo show by Catalan writer Montserrat Roig. Varagic is the title figure, an actor preparing for the role of wronged Greek queen Clytemnestra.
Clito Mestres is a character close to Varagic, in part because its co-translator, Canadian poet Anne Szumigalksi, was an important friend. They were introduced by Saskatoon director Tibor Feheregyhazi -- "What a relief to audition for someone who had a stronger accent than I did!" -- who staged the one-woman piece at Persephone Theatre several years ago. Varagic then remounted it for a short SummerWorks run.
"On one level, the piece is about an actor preparing for a role by dealing with everyday things. It's what we all do -- let our imagination loose to fly and make associations, take bits from inside and outside, create a new entity."
The vibrant Varagic is almost constantly in motion as we talk. She stands up, sits down, walks around the carpet on which the Clito makeup table sits. It's all for the purpose of acting out her stories. She wants not to relate them, but to give me a sense of being there when they happened.
"At the same time, the play is full of parallels between two cheated-on women who lose their daughters -- the mythic Clytemnestra and the "real' Clito. Clito is surviving catastrophe in her own life by coming back to the theatre after 20 years, all excited and scared.
"I can relate," Varagic laughs again. "On the surface, Clito is all chatty conversation, but underneath there's the strong resonance of Greek tragedy."
And there's another artistic parallel for Varagic. She's taking Vindication to Belgrade's National Theatre next month.
"The new general manager invited me back to work with the company," she says in a voice that suggests the strong, conflicting emotions beneath her words, "but I can't break off my eight years here to work for months in European rep.
"I can, though, bring over a show like Vindication for 10 performances. It'll be, for me, a symbolic return to the theatre."
A leading actor at the National Theatre of Belgrade for 15 years, Varagic performed in such classics as War And Peace, Romeo And Juliet, Richard III and Look Back In Anger.
And then politics changed her life.
Varagic won't talk specifics about leaving -- it's still too emotional and close to her -- but she knew when she arrived in Canada in 1993 that she had to keep up her work even if she knew nothing about Canadian theatre nor anyone in it.
A friend suggested she call Toronto director Ned Vukovic, whose parents are Yugoslavian, and he put her in touch with Equity Showcase. She began classes, though she admits she was frightened.
"I'd studied in England in the 80s, at Stratford's Shakespeare Institute, but I was scared that I wouldn't understand a word being spoken in class," she recalls with a toss of her head at such needless concerns.
And then director Peter Hinton swept her into the world of Canadian theatre. Casting an Equity production of the rarely done Jacobean tragedy The Witch Of Edmonton, Hinton auditioned this immigrant who tried to read the script but found it harder to get through than Shakespeare.
"I did a speech by Lady Anne from Richard III, looking Peter straight in the eye, not knowing that one didn't audition that way.
"He told me the performance was excellent; I replied that it was only all right."
That's typical of Varagic, whose forthrightness and emotional honesty undergird all her work, whether it's Sonya, the actor in the Fringe hit The Happiness Channel who wants to do the classics but only gets TV commercial spots, or a character named B, the woman in The Daughters Of Sheherzad who can't recall the murder she committed.
And P.S. -- she got the key role of madwoman Ann Ratcliffe in Hinton's production two months after she arrived in Canada, and went on to do two more Equity Showcases. People teased her about being the queen of Showcase. Varagic recalls -- with a smile and a touch of teariness in her voice -- how Witch's 22 actors greeted her the first day of rehearsal with a song in her native language.
"But I was so nervous opening night that only after the show did I realize that when people asked me questions, I'd responded in Serbian."