The Rez Sisters by Tomson Highway
Dates and Venue 15-24 November 2007 @ 19.30 | Frederic Wood Theatre, University of British Columbia
Director Johnna Wright Sets Parjad Sharifi Lighting Chris Littman Costumes Jay Havens Sound The Students of Theatre 308
Reviewer Jane Penistan
Tomson Highway's play about life on the reservation is still relevant, in spite of recent government promises of improved living conditions for aboriginal people. The hopes and fears of all women, covered by the chitchat of everyday life, are still, and always will be, poignant.
The Rez Sisters are seven women living on a reserve in the north of Southern Ontario. Their hardworking lives are brightened by the recreation of Bingo with its attendant thrill of the possibility of winning money to bring some unexpected luxury into someone's humdrum existence.
Though they long for what they think is the comfort and pleasure of urban living, these women are at heart loath to leave their homeland. The city lights may shine brightly on paved streets, the sunlight, the lake and the open air are still their heritage and their home.
Outside interests become an excitement for the village women. The arrival of a postal package containing a current popular song/singer record is an excitement and letters are of significance. As in all close-knit communities, the seven women of this play gossip about their neighbours and tend to know everyone else’s business.
With husbands and sons working in nearby towns and distant cities, the women are housewives, child minders and house menders, besides being mutual support to each other. These seven women, the Rez sisters, are all inter-related – sisters, half sisters or sisters in-law, and they quarrel and make-up as all siblings do.
The play opens on a beautiful August day, with Pelajia Patchnose (Maura Halloran) reshingling her roof. Upstage, in front of the blue sky backdrop is the white and grey brooding figure of the birdman/”Trickster”, Nanabush (Tracy Olson). He is the central figure in Inuit mythology and can turn up in any guise he chooses.
Various sisters talk with Pelajia either on the roof or from the ground on their way to collect the mail or take the children down to play in the lake. The women gather and become excited when a letter with the news that there is a monster Bingo, “The Biggest Bingo in the World” coming to Toronto. How can they get there? Where can they stay? What couldn't each do with the money?
By borrowing an old car the women are off on the long drive to the city. The Bingo becomes a shambles, and Marie Adele Starblanket (Kim Harvey) learns, when she keeps her doctor’s appointment in the city, that her days are numbered. Nanabush, now the black clad bingo caller, waltzes Marie Adele from this world.
Back at the reserve the saddened and chastened women return to their daily lives. The childless Veronique (Cecile Roslin) is now caring for the Starblanket children and their father, and rejoicing in her new found wealth which has provided a new stove and a huge roast of beef. Pelajia is still repairing her roof while the others go about their daily business. They have had their fling and are home again, with the familiar seagull, their spirit Nanabush, still watching over them.
Johnna Wright has directed her cast so that each character is clearly defined and the sisters, while they gossip and bicker remain a close knit and supportive family.
The play moves at a good pace and the actors play well with each other. Tracy Olson, who is a native Indian, moves with a dancers grace and manages to be part of this world and the spirit world. On stage throughout is Alannah Earl Young playing the drum, whose beat accompanies the play throughout. Young a is also the cultural advisor for the production and is from the Cree/Anishnabe Nations in Manitoba. She is the counselor and trainer with UBC’s First Nations House of Learning in Vancouver.
This is a play for all time and for all people as it touches on all humanity.
© 2007 Jane Penistan