- Canada -
A Very Polite Genocide
BY Alison Fleming December 08, 2008 15:12
To Dec 21. Tues-Sat 8pm; Sun mat 2:30pm. $18-$25; Sun PWYC; students at door $15, groups of 10 or more $10/ticket. Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, 12 Alexander Street. 416-975-8555. www.artsexy.ca.
Falen Johnson, who plays the pivotal character of Josie Pichette in Native Earth Performing Arts’ premiere of playwright Melanie J. Murray’s A Very Polite Genocide, points out that we treat Canada’s residential schools as recorded history, something we put in a box and regard from afar. Josie herself embodies this distance at the beginning of the play as she delivers a formal academic presentation to her Aboriginal studies class while privately agonizing over the ramifications of her recent discovery that she herself is of Aboriginal heritage.
As Josie searches for her roots, her family members, particularly her broken and rootless uncle Robbie, she demonstrates that the wounds created by separation and abuse never go away. Murray wisely leaves Josie’s own mother conspicuously absent from the narrative by constructing her as nothing more than a voice at the other end of a telephone. Her silence leaves a broken link between generations.
Director Yvette Nolan makes both the time-shifting between generations and the play’s magic-realism work purposefully. A minimal set featuring bare branches and poignant archival photographs, and the faded colours of Anna Treusch’s costumes effectively create a reality made of emotion and memory rather than one rooted in a specific place and time. Even though the device of interweaving the threads of many stories together does eventually work, it’s choppy at first. A few longer anchoring scenes would have set a more stable groundwork earlier on, although we do get some halfway through.
Paula Jean Prudat does a fine job of playing Josie’s grandmother Mary as a vivacious and defiant young woman who becomes increasingly bereft as the residential school system’s poisonous legacy infects her husband and robs her of her children. Also noteworthy is Waawaate Fobister’s assured handling two very different roles: Rougarou, a nightmarish trickster/werewolf, and a resilient prostitute who functions as an unlikely voice of hope.A Very Polite Genocide definitely has a point to make, but at times it needlessly articulates the frustration and sorrow that the audience is feeling anyway, which results in an emotional pitch that seems a bit too tortured. Given the subject matter, though, this may be unavoidable: as Josie’s grandfather Elder Martin (Paul Chaput) warns us, “If I open up, I’ll pour my guts out all over the floor.”