Review: Non Gratas, A Latinx Comedy Show With a Lot of Melodrama (Alma Matters Productions)

Cultures collide in Non Gratas at Bad Dog Theatre Company

Non Gratas, A Latinx Comedy Show With a Lot of Melodrama, is an improv comedy show that does its name proud. Produced by Alma Matters, and staged at Bad Dog Theatre Company, it’s loosely built around two young Latin American women who become friends after immigrating to Canada. As they struggle to connect with a new culture, they highlight the gap between two stereotypes—Canadian humility and Latinx passion—with jokes that kill but also let me into their devastating longing for home. 

Marta (Mariela Pabón Navedo) is a newcomer from Puerto Rico, hungry for love and friendship, who’s been having a rough time connecting with everyone she meets. That is, until she runs into Maria (Patricia Tab), an Argentinian experienced with the culture shock of new arrival. Maria not only finds a friend and roommate in Marta, but also someone to save from the pains of finding your footing as a foreigner.

Each woman sees herself reflected in the other, the first time they recognize themselves in another person since arriving in Canada. Here, they feel like personae non gratae, both unwelcome and misunderstood. They explore this notion not so much through a plot, but by developing their relationship through different improv scenarios.

One recurring segment is a simple back and forth, where Marta and Maria trade off lines built on a central theme. It’s kind of like stand-up comedy with the added jolt of improv. The first of these segments explains how showing emotion is a daily part of Latinx life. The duo conveys this through sweet, poetic exaggerations that perfectly encapsulate the issue. Selected gems include how, in Puerto Rico, it’s normal to get your heart broken on a daily basis, and how, on any given morning, Argentinians may fall in love with someone they saw at a bus stop. 

On another back and forth, contrast is exploited to maximum hilarity. Marta has a breakdown and deciphers a lover’s text out loud in front of co-workers during a business presentation. Juxtapose her hysterics with Maria, who quietly poses grand philosophical questions about feeling like parts of her are missing when friends and lovers move on. My favourite is the surreal, “Where do trees go when they want to leave?”

At one point, it turns out the duo have been dating the same Kyle. This leads to them riffing on being Canadian and our well-known typecasting as somewhat dull, polite, and self-effacing apologists. They find nuance in this overplayed subject by concentrating it in Kyle’s love for fishing, and their exasperation at how anyone could find something so boring so interesting. Maria sums up the Canadian-Latinx divide when she asks, rather memorably, “Why it is so hard for men to understand that, sometimes, I just need to argue with someone?”

Non Gratas also includes a number of karaoke performances. It’s another avenue for Tab and Pabón Navedo to depict Latinx effusiveness, this time as a way to exorcise your frustrations by letting them out on stage. The performances are moments of abandon and disinhibition. Open invitations to join in a glorious cacophony of bad singing and dance my troubles away.

Marta’s unrushed, deadpan delivery and Maria’s fretful, anxious musings play off one another from moment one. The dynamic adds a backbone of sharpness to material. It goes a long way to making up for the occasional weak line, or moment of dead silence, which comes with the improv territory if you ask me. 

Monica Garrido, member of Sketch Comedy Extravaganza Eleganza, warmed us up with stand-up that showcased her confident, goofy style. She told stories of growing up religious in Mexico as a closeted lesbian and how that compares to a more diverse but no less skewed Canadian existence. One where, she notes, Mexican people are considered brown, whereas in Mexico, they’re just Mexican. Her writing is concise, her timing surgical, and her dance moves during the karaoke segments unrivaled in terms of funkiness.

My guest, Jonah, thought Non Gratas did justice to the strength it takes anyone to bridge two cultures. Though the show brims with laughs, they are often a coping response to how hard it is to make a life far from home. The characters open the tap to that feeling and never turn it off. “I couldn’t help but wish them well,” he said. His one note, given the show’s 45-minute run-time, was that some scenarios would benefit from greater length.

Tab and Pabón Navedo—who perform as a duo under the name Non Gratas—keep the electricity of uncertainty in the air. The show truly feels like it’s being created as they go, minus all the stops and starts you’d expect if that were actually the case. A lot of this has to do with their fearlessness in the face of “yes, and”. But it’s also tied to how the show’s big-picture subject, our need for community, boils down to winging it, introducing yourself to a stranger, and seeing what happens.

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Photo of Mariela Pabón Navedo and Patricia Tab provided by Alma Matters Productions.

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