Firehall Arts Centre

fareWel

Written by Ian Ross Directed by Donna Spencer

Plays Feb 6th - Feb 27th

by Frank C. Scott

Between the extremes of tragedy and clowning lie numerous combinations of human emotions. The touching comedy of  fareWel explores these emotional combinations head on, making you laugh at our human frailties while humbly reminding us of what we are rather than what we might wish ourselves to be. Simply put, it is comedy at its best.

Native Canadian playwright Ian Ross won a 1997 Governor General's Literary Award for this play. He is a graduate of film and theatre from the University of Manitoba and a newcomer to the Canadian main-stage theatre scene. He writes with flare in a very unassuming way, uses great dialogue, and finds humour in the most heart touching places. Ross states that "…Humour is a window, and it's a vehicle for change. It lets people into things that they otherwise wouldn't feel right about. I want people to see the characters as human beings that happen to be Aboriginal."

Set on the fictional and bankrupt Partridge Crop Reserve in Manitoba, the all-native cast depicts a motley band of characters struggling to deal with life on the Reserve. The play opens with the chief away on another gambling junket to Las Vegas and the welfare (nicknamed fareWel) cheques have failed to arrive. Soon cigarettes are being rolled from butts, gasoline is being sniffed, and the unpleasant squalor of reservation life is painted. Teddy decides it's time for self-government, appoints himself the new chief and dreams of operating a casino. Phyllis worries about feeding her kids. Rachel, an ex hooker, is torn between seeing the reservation as a place for family and a dead end place for losers. Melvin questions his native identity and hangs about the church as a deterrent to gas sniffing. Robert just wants to stay clear of everyone and maintain his business, and Sheldon, nicknamed Nigger, happily goes about living his life which is similar to that of a dog.

On the surface this motley bunch could easily appear as shallow stereotypes. But with well-written humour and strong performances, the play transcends far below the surface to unveil deep emotion. We begin to see parallels drawn, not only between other oppressed people, but all people in general. We witness that when you take away what keeps people powerless the result is they become empowered, and that all people, regardless of race or colour, strive for the same basic needs: a family, a home, recognition and respect.

While some of the characters represent the darker sides of reservation life, Nigger represents the lighter, more comical side. He plays the clown, the buffoon; the more bedraggled of the bunch, but he also represents an elder and offers up wise insights. When the young gas-sniffing Melvin questions the significance of being an Indian, Nigger suggests, "You won't go bald"…"And we are teachers…we're going to teach the white people again how to live. Lots more white people are gonna be poor. And they're gonna be on welfare. And because we already know how to live on welfare, we're gonna teach them how to live again." Actor Lorne Cardinal brings the character Nigger to life with smiling witty charm while tugging at your heart at the same time. He is a dream to watch and acts as the pivotal character, the storyteller's main voice.

Director Donna Spencer deserves credit for bringing this heart-warming comedy to Vancouver. Over the years, Donna has become a leader in presenting productions that deal with native issues for which she received a Jessie Richardson Award in 1991.

Craig Hall's set design matched with Ted Roberts' lighting design created the perfect dull and dreary backdrop needed for this comedy. Also worth noting is Ted Roberts's busy schedule of late. His resent designs include sets for Swing, Two Ships Passing and Wang Dang Doodle.