Vital Spark/United Players of Vancouver

Birthright

By Constance Lindsay Skinner

Venue: Jericho Arts Centre Dates: 2-18 May 2003

Reviewer: Jane Penistan

 

 

Director: Joan Bryans
Translator/Adaptation Advisor: Jane Smith Mowat
Fight Director: Sebastien de Castell
Set Designer: John R. Taylor
Lighting Designer: Darren W. Hales
Costume Designer: Tanya Seltenrich
Sound Designer : Glen Jamison
Original Music: Mark Germani
Flute: Duane Howard
Gitskan Songs: Angie Combs
Gitskan Storyteller (voice over): Jane Smith Mowatt
Stage Manager: Claudine Parker


Birthright Poster The Canadian premiere of Constance Lindsay Skinner's Birthright opened at The Jericho Arts Centre on Friday 3 May 2003. This play was written in 1905 and first produced in Chicago in 1912. Though the playwright was Canadian, this work has not previously been seen in Canada.

Vital Spark and United Players are as pioneering in this play as are the missionaries in the cast. But there the similarity ends. Director Joan Bryans has altered very little of the original script, and this only to make the dialogue more acceptable to 21st-century ears and less insulting to aboriginal people. Considerable research with native scholars has gone into the presentation of this work.

Set in a remote village in Northern British Columbia, the play opens with haunting flute music from the depths of the forest surrounding the house of the Reverend Robert Maclean. The flautist is Duane Howard in the character of Sim'oogit who crosses the stage in front of the open interior of the living room of the Maclean family.

The contrast of the attempt to reproduce an Edwardian vicarage with all its respectability and social graces in the wilds of British Columbia and the simplicity of the life style of the local Indian people fascinates Louie Prince (Jason Krowe) as he enters the house to deliver the mail and takes a good investigative look round. The sight of one of his people dressed up as an English parlour maid setting the tea table, is another strange sight for him.

Mrs Maclean (Annie Smith) and her neighbours, Mrs Redfern (Fran Burnside) with her daughter Cissie (Kate Murphy) endeavour to keep up the illusion that they are still in a suburban milieu, discussing the expected arrival of the Maclean's son from university. There are hints that this young man, Harry, will become engaged to Cissie.


The serene atmosphere is shattered by the precipitate entrance of Precious, the Maclean's adopted daughter. Who is Precious Conroy and what are her origins?

Animatedly played by Odessa Shuquaya, Precious is a young woman with a mind of her own. She is certainly in love with Harry Maclean (Adam Lolacher), a diffident university student caught between British family discipline and his own desires. She is loved and wooed by Louis Prince, the son of the local chief and his wife. Harry and Precious seem to be destined for a future together, until the disturbing arrival of ne'er do well alcoholic, Tom Conroy (Terence Loychuk).

Now the secret of Precious' mother is revealed and with it the clash of cultures and racial prejudice surfaces. The stern Reverend Robert Maclean will not sanction his son's engagement to Precious, and she cannot understand why Harry will abandon her. Tom Conroy demands recompense for what he alleges is the loss of his daughter, but what does he really want her for?

Who are the civilized and compassionate members of this bi-cultural community?

This is a powerful piece of theatre admirably presented by Joan Bryans and her cast and crew. The setting and costumes are well designed and the original music fascinating. The actors play well together, developing their characters and interacting with each other. The conflict of cultures is clearly defined.

Congratulations to Vital Spark /United Players for finding and mounting this perceptive and interesting Canadian work.

2003, Jane Penistan

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