Every Letter Counts
Nina Lee Aquino premieres a personal play on words at the Factory Theatre
Written by Nina Lee Aquino
Directed by Nigel Shawn Williams
Factory Theatre launched its new season on Thursday night with the world premiere of Nina Lee Aquino's Every Letter Counts, a thoughtful memory play about the writer's relationship with her famous uncle, Filipino political icon Benigno Aquino.
Set in the Aquino Museum in Manila, Phillippines, the story follows Bunny (Aquino playing herself) as she struggles to make peace with her family history and carve out her own path.
Bunny is haunted by the voice of her uncle, also known as "Ninoy" (Jon de Leon), and relives the short time they spent together when she was six years old. Although she only knew him for four days, Ninoy's presence made a lasting impression. The senator took an interest in the dyslexic young Bunny, teaching her to read by playing Scrabble. Meanwhile, her father Cecilio (Anthony Malarky) is troubled by his brother's steadfast beliefs and refuses to support Ninoy's chosen calling.
In between Scrabble games, we learn about Ninoy's political battles as he fights for the rights of the Filipino people against the corrupt government of President Ferdinand Marcos (Earl Pastko). Bunny imagines confrontations between the two politicians, setting the stage for Ninoy's eventual assassination. These scenes, while interesting, could benefit from additional background information. It is often difficult to follow the narrative, especially when the characters shout over one another to get their points across. The cast does a fine job with the material overall, but it is the relationship between Aquino's fiesty Bunny and de Leon's charismatic Ninoy that holds our attention throughout.
Visually, the production makes a striking impact with Cameron Davis' clever projections of old photographs and lettered tiles coming together to tell a story on the walls of Anna Treusch's simple wooden set. While Aquino's attempt to process her cultural heritage is somewhat jumbled, it certainly is admirable and well worth checking out.
Every Letter Counts runs until February 24 at the Factory Theatre Mainspace. Visit factorytheatre.ca for more information and to buy tickets.