The Geography Teacher’s Orders
by Marta Singh
Two Women Productions
54 min / Solo, Storytelling / PG
It’s hard for Canadians to understand living under a totalitarian regime like Argentina’s military junta during the “Dirty War” (1978-1983) when 15 to 30 thousand people “disappeared”.
Marta Bruno Singh was a teenager in Argentina after the Falklands War, when the junta fell. Her memories of school form a microcosm of the tribulations of her native country.
Singh excelled in school through hard study and an eidetic memory. But she and her classmates meet their match: the grade 10 Geography teacher whose reputation preceded her. “Her reign was legendary.”
Even as newspaper headlines proclaim “the end of fear”, fear does not leave the grade 10 Geography class.
The Geography teacher uses what George Orwell labelled DoubleSpeak. She uses words the students think they know, but changes their meaning. She encourages students to read newspapers and bring news items to class because “Everything is Geography!” But in her class “everything” is not “all things”. Some news items are admissible, others not. Provenance matters. Admissible news sources support or are neutral to the junta. Democratic news sources are ignored.
The teacher divides the class into those who read the right newspapers and those who read the wrong ones. Lest anyone doubt the power of such division, I refer them to The Third Wave experiment, where history teacher Ron Jones divided his school’s students into “The Third Wave” and non-members. Jones had to halt the experiment after five days.
Singh’s classmates cower under the teacher’s verbal assaults. “Solidarity is easy when it’s fun.” She levies a heavy price on mutual assistance, dividing earned grades by the number of participants. Solidarity becomes a forbidden word. It’s replaced by “tendrils of dread.”
I won’t reveal how the students learn the power of language and literature.
Singh reveals the state of her class and her country through teenage eyes. Canadians might dismiss her tale as “everybody had a bad high school teacher.” But Singh presents a lesson in youth indoctrination under authoritarianism.
It’s an engaging story, but technical issues marred delivery. The face-mic cut out at critical moments, breaking Singh’s diction and distracting from the story line. Studio Léonard-Beaulne is a small space and Singh’s voice can project in that space. Were I stage manager, I would lose the mic.
A tale worth listening to in our darkening times.
The Geography Teacher’s Orders by Marta Singh is being performed in Studio Léonard-Beaulne inside University of Ottawa (133 Séraphin-Marion Pvt) until Sunday June 24, 2018. Tickets Cost $12. Visit ottawafringe.com for the schedule and box office info. Read more reviews at apt613.ca/fringe.