Antonette Rea has had a remarkable life, with her story brought to the stage in Miss Understood as part of this year’s PuSh International Performing Arts Festival.
From middle class father to transgendered drug addict and sex worker, she was repeatedly drugged and raped on film, and faced abuse at the hands of both the R.C.M.P. and the Canadian justice system. Now in her twilight years, she has discovered poetry.
Director James Fagan Tait worked with Rea to bring her life to the stage. Using some of her poems and first person narration, she is our guide to her own life. Aiding her on stage are two young actors, Austin Eckert and Starlise Waschuk, and some solemn video projections beautifully rendered by Candelario Andrade.
The sound design and composition by Candelario Andrade and Malcolm Dow is powerful and evocative, capturing both pain and pulsating pleasure, and the choreography by Noam Gagnon is alternately tender and cruel. The projection screen and raked platform stage below are both suitably stark and moody.
Rea however does not go deep into her journey, with many compelling questions remaining unanswered. What did she get out of the sex trade? Before becoming an addict, were the drugs fun? How did her family react? There are few flashes of naughty whimsy, but everything else is presented from a place of regret, indignation or sadness.
While Rea may not go deep, her story remains harrowing, and her bravery for presenting it on stage is moving. Her poetry is touching and the whole piece is somber and proud. As the three of them stand tall and face the audience you can’t help but commend her for a life lived and for her survival. That in itself is worth celebrating.
Miss Understood by Antonette Rea. Directed by James Fagan Tait. Produced by the frank theatre company as part of the 2016 PuSh International Performing Arts Festival. On stage at Performance Works (1218 Cartwright St, Granville Island, Vancouver) until January 31. Visit http://pushfestival.ca for tickets and information.