Let me just cop, right at the outset, to my primary disappointment about this piece: Waawaate Fobister isn’t in it. Talented as he is as a writer – and he surely is, as Medicine Boy, part of the 2012 SummerWorks Performance Festival, demonstrates – he’s such a bright, engaging, deeply satisfying performer that when I skimmed the program before the show I had a little frisson of disappointment. No Waawaate on stage. Phooey. Don’t worry, I got over it fast.
Medicine Boy is a complex narrative, and demanded my attention from start to finish. Characters are introduced with complex relationships to one another that are revealed slowly over time; ditto locations. I love a good high-context, complicated narrative that leaves me to do a good bit of the work – making guesses and then evaluating them with each new bit of information, retroactively understanding (or re-understanding) previous interactions in the face of new knowledge, and so on. This piece delivers, on that level and others.
The narrative, about the brutal legacy of colonization, residential schools, racism, reserve life and industrial poisoning of the land is difficult. And – appropriately – the audience is not let off the hook at any stage. Main character Mukukee (Garret C. Smith) wrestles, sometimes physically, with the antecedents of his current pain, and he is encouraged and taught and mocked and welcomed by his elder, Daebaujimod (Jonathan Fisher) who continually reverses time in order to create layers of understanding. The metaphor created between layers of time/damage and layers of time/healing is not lost on the audience.
Fobister has an ear for cadence and lyricism I especially enjoy, and is also not afraid here to let the characters speak Anishnaabe without translation (a choice I really value, especially in this piece about colonization and racism). I wish director Tara Beagan would have asked the actors to speak up and project more, even when they’re speaking Anishnaabe (and, presumably, do not expect most of the audience to understand). That’s really my only directorial note; she clearly did a marvelous job in a tough piece. As usual, Andy Moro’s projections (and we all know I have an abiding love of his work) add a lot, giving us clues and emotional notes as thematic and plot elements start to combine, helping us to understand what we’re watching and how the pieces fit together. Whoever designed the scrims with the natural wood stylized tree-limbs on them made a great choice there.*
I could go on, but really – this is beautiful, and you’re quite likely to adore it, and if you can get a ticket you should see this while you can, in its first staging. In twenty years you will be proud to tell people you saw the original, the very first time it was ever performed.
- Medicine Boy plays at Scotiabank Studio Theatre (6 Noble St)
- Remaining performances are Thurs. August 16, 10:00 PM, Fri. August 17, 5:00 PM, Sat. August 18, 12:00 PM
- All individual SummerWorks tickets are $15 at the door (cash only). Tickets are available online at ticketwise.ca (Advance tickets are $15 + service fee)
- Several money-saving passes are available if you plan to see at least 3 shows.
*Editors’ Note: Andy Moro is also the scenic designer and sound designer for the piece.