Joan MacLeod’s “Amigo’s Blue Guitar” still strikes a chord at the Walterdale Theatre

by | Feb 14, 2024 | Entertainment

“What will you do with my story now?” asks Walterdale Theatre’s latest production about a Canadian family and the young refugee who comes to live with them. Written by Joan MacLeod and directed by Bob Klakowich, Amigo’s Blue Guitar—which earned MacLeod the Governor General’s Literary Award for Drama in 1991— takes place in a family’s home on an island along BC’s West Coast, and centers around Elias (Aldrick Dugarte), a Salvadoran refugee arriving and staying with the family after being sponsored by Sander (Graham Schmitz), the family’s aimless son. The show was originally written, set and performed in the early 90’s, while the civil war in El Salvador continued to rage. It explores an immigrant refugee’s experiences coming to Canada and having to deal with the bureaucracy of immigration agencies, the trauma of leaving a civil war-torn homeland and the ignorance of (mostly) well-meaning strangers.

Klakowich, with the aid of Cultural Consultant and Dramaturg Leo Campos Aldunez, has set his production of the five-person show in the same time and place; watching the show through a lens of thirty years makes similarities to current immigration issues far more poignant. The audience sees in Elias a sort of refugee everyman, while the family demonstrates different levels of privilege, inequality and ignorance Canadians can often be steeped in. Elias finds joy in new friendships and family members like Sander’s sister Callie (Crystal Poniewozik) or Martha (Sandy Roberts) but is continually frustrated by the hassle of Canadian immigration and refugee policies, or the constant and painful reflection stemming from probing inquiries about his life in El Salvador. 

The cast takes on the narrative unflinchingly. There are delicious subtle moments of irony like when the dad, Owen (Richard Wiens) describes to Elias his own starkly different experience as a ‘draft dodger’ fleeing the U.S.A. and entering Canada; or seeing characters struggle with Elias’ polite sadness, wondering, “shouldn’t he be happier?” Schmitz walks a tricky line as the informed and outspoken Sander, who rationalizes all of his problems as the result of someone else’s doing. Poniewozik, Wiens and Roberts each play their roles solidly, reflecting those folks who are well-meaning and sympathetic towards refugees, but often less helpful than they think. However, the show rests on the shoulders of Dugarte, who takes on the role of Elias with grace, tact, humour and emotional commitment that, in my opinion, is often rare in non-professional community theatre. The set, costumes, prop, sound and lighting design are all excellent, with mindfulness of the setting’s time and west coast imagery. At times, the action in the play seems a little stiff or empty as characters sit and stand around a table not really doing anything but saying their lines, but the content and performances Klakowich has cultivated are plenty to keep audiences engaged and entertained. The cast lands the show with sobering success to underscore the universal pain of those who have found themselves forced to turn to Canada as a host while their homes have been taken from them. A stark and emotional ending reflects the horrors of war and reinterprets the words that Kitty Wells sang: “They’ve hushed their singing in the villas.”

Amigo’s Blue Guitar at the Walterdale Theatre will run from February 7 to the 17, 2024, at 8pm (doors open at 7:30). Tickets are normally $23 or “Pay-What-You-Can” on Wednesday February 14. For more information on Amigo’s Blue Guitar and other productions at the Walterdale Theatre, visit

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