Review: Mangoes from The Valley

“Perhaps, in another life, my weary soul will find place to rest”. These are the only words spoken in Mangoes From The Valley – voiced over in Spanish at the beginning, and in English at the end. With these 13 words, one actor, one room and about 30 minutes of action, this filmed theatrical experience delivers a powerful statement from Trinidad and Tobago to the Toronto Fringe Festival (TFF).

Rene King in a still from Mangoes in the Valley

Junebug Productions’ Mangoes In The Valley highlights the experience of Maria del Valle, a Venezuelan woman who seeks refuge in Trinidad and is subjected to financial and sexual exploitation. It claims to be ‘a collage of the experience of these women’. However, as the body of the play itself gives no indication of geographic setting or character background, Maria becomes more of an everywoman, and hers is a narrative of the personal destruction caused by sexual abuse, drug abuse, and desperation in this and any other context.

Little to nothing is told about Maria’s individual story, leaving much space for the viewer to fill in the blanks with our own experiences and knowledge of the issues explored. This is all supplemented by an audio recording of Maria’s story, narrated in detail and accompanied by the film’s theme song, Otra Vida. Had this been integrated into film itself, it would have made for a more direct approach to the social setting by which it is inspired, as well as the symbolism of the ‘Mangoes in the Valley’.

This Fringe Festival entry was not an easy watch – and it ought not to be. From the vantage point of a back wall in Maria’s small one-bedroom dwelling, it shows her everyday routine upon returning from daily tortures that one can only imagine. Renee King’s one-woman show is poignant and mature, and she does justice to what was undoubtedly a demanding performance. Under the direction of Aryanna Mohammed, each movement feels symbolic, and the entire sequence plays like a very evocative dance in the space. The mundanity begins to drag somewhere in the middle of the first 6.5 minutes, but picks up the pace into the climax- the reenactment of a violent encounter. After Maria packs her belongings and flees her apartment, only to return to it and the despair that it represents. The piece ends with a knock at the door, signalling the continuation of a painful story.

The single actor & single set arrangement is a practical choice for Junebug Productions’ debut piece, but it also depicts a sense of isolation and confinement that works well with the action. The company deals with the touchiness of the topic with social responsibility- giving ample trigger warnings and even a self-care guide for watching the play. Eve Hamel-Smith’s mulitalents are a definite asset to the team- as she is given credit for the phenomenal graphic design, music composition, vocal performance and video editing.

TFF’s Fringe On-Demand and KidsFest On-Demand shows have been extended until Sunday, August 15, 2021 at 11:59 ET. 

Patrons can purchase a membership pass online (which allows access to all Fringe Shows) at www.fringetoronto.com. View Mangos from the Valley HERE.

For more information, connect with JuneBug Productions on Instagram @junebugproductions21

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