Jorge Luis Borges stands among the greatest writers of the twentieth century, a pioneering figure of South American literature and the magical realist genre. It was once said of him that he could have rewritten War and Peace in five pages and it probably would have been better. Reading his shorter fiction is like being lost in the mirror reflection of an incomprehensible labyrinth that one once read in some infinite book that one found in a dream. Borges and I however is less than dreamlike. This most playfully intellectual of authors is somehow beaten into the realm of the mundane, made quotidian by a company that has no insight or interest into Borges but merely wishes to tack him onto a story that has only the slightest connections with Borges’ life and absolutely none with his work.
The problem is that the structure of the play is frustratingly uncommitted to its own subject matter. In an attempt to make Borges accessible Idle Motion have pushed him into the background of his own story. What we get instead is a rather run of the mill middle class, realist romance with more syrup than you could ever hope to find in all of Canada. A likeable and attractive mid-twentyish couple fall in love while at their local book club because, lo and behold, not only do they have a similar opinion about this month’s rollicking page turner but they are also able to finish each other’s sentences. Romance then blossoms with all the predictable machinations that such a premise implies.
This story is then intercut with random sections about Borges’ biography. These sections are without doubt more interesting. The actors turn to a more physical form of expression and indeed some of their visual ideas and imagery are quite beautiful. I am particularly fond of the silhouette of a tiger running across a library shelf. These sections also benefit from the fact that they quote at length from Borges himself, from his poetry and essays etc. Indeed the climax of the play which sees the two sections of the narrative merge into one while the essay Borges and I is read aloud is very elegantly done. It is a shame however that we needed to reach the end before such a connection could be drawn.
A disappointingly timid take on great man – this play is not what it says on the tin. The great bulk of it belongs in some tedious television soap. Borges could have rewritten this play in one sentence and it probably would have been better.