Thursday, 25 April 2013

Craigslist Cantata  is a refreshing hit of bubbly

Cyber-ad snippets from Craigslist thrust into a crisp and bubbly cabaret motif is what you see and what you get in ACT’s 2013 re-mount of last year’s PuSh Festival hit Do You Want What I Have Got? A Craigslist Cantata (CC).

CC is a show offbeat and quirky and wholly original with music and acting vignettes to match : the standing ovation it received opening night was genuine and spontaneous, not one of those valentine candy hearts Vancouverites hand out ritually.

It’s the creation of Bill Richardson, noted CBC radio host, along with local indie composer Veda Hille who prides herself on scripting “eccentric musicals”.  In the current production Marguerite Witvoet takes her place; she thumps the baby grand on stage and sings gustily just like my a cappella teacher used to do.

CC features some 40-odd song-bites taken directly from or inspired by actual Craigslist want ads, the majority source being the “Missed Connections” link under the “Personals” category off that site. All of the material ranges from the curious to the obscure and plain perverse, like the guy offering to look after peoples’ pets once Jesus “raptures” them.

During the closing medley of one-liners a choir of posters identify themselves or the object of their desire – such as “You were the one who threw up on Skytrain” (?!). The natural rhetorical question from Missed Connections is then posed : “What’s the chance you’ll read this, and if you do you’ll say ‘Who needs this…’!”

All the tunes are performed by four actors who rhyme off the mini-stories Richardson anthologized and Hille put her musical magic wand to. Strongest performances opening night were from Bree Greig whose big voice and snappy footwork keep her in primary focus. Her number enumerating the qualities the new roommate she seeks must not have was a true crowd-pleaser. But fact is the newcomer to the current production, Jessie-winning Josh Epstein, gives as good as Greig in both voice and stage action. His bit as an Eastern Euro reaching out to the black-black lady whom he swoon-dances to was choreographed wonderfully – utterly tight and true bit of cabaret the crowd cheered over.

J. Cameron Barnett turns in many poignant takes, particularly in two bits, one where he writes to a clown in stilts he saw downtown: “I was the guy who took your picture, I am single, living mid-town, I’d like to take you out to dance, and more…” though the slapstick dry hump stage direction was just wrong. In another bit he reaches out into the cybervoid to find a man “to get together and drink coffee and hug – in our underwear – I’m not gay or anything – it’s sort of a male-bonding thing.” This one he milks of its every campy, wincing ounce.

Selina Martin’s husky voice turned in a touching story of the woman trying to find new homes for 14 hats she’d made over the years for her cherished cat Snowman, who’d just died. Martin also riffs nicely on electric guitar as well as taking a violin bow to a carpenter's saw in one number with haunting effect. Her singing and guitar in “looking for a metal-head roommate for a metal-head house” was big sound and big laugh both.

Director Amiel Gladstone exploits his cast wonderfully well. The quick-step blocking and pirouette staging envelop the intimate Revue Stage room. Resident set designer Ted Roberts suspends a variety of lamps and lampshades above the stage, mostly 70’s macramé and parchment paper balls plus ersatz Victorian chandeliers, all of which symbolize how styles tend to recycle. Costumes by Darryl Milot could be Commercial Drive either 1969 or 2013, effective eclectics, more recycling. Lighting by John Webber was very cleverly designed to highlight individual performers on isolated squidges of stage at a time.

Noteworthy is that the title of the piece is really just the last half of a couplet that is reprised wistfully four or five times throughout the night : “God I want what you have – do you want what I have got…?” What these anonymous cyber-adsters reveal is primarily what they “have got” is the human condition rampant in today's first world : lifestyles that are goofy and weird and superficial and largely innocent, much of the time. 

But the ache of what French sociologist Emile Durkheim termed back in fin de siecle 19th century as anomie – peoples’ longing and desperation and disorientation in a world where competition is god and social isolation is almost epidemic. This existential ache is a lingering afternote in every song and lyric Hille and Richardson produce. 

Nevermind what it might have been 100+ years ago in the industrial revolution before women had the vote. Take to-day's "advances" on all that through technology. Everyone knows there is no soul in cyberspace – but somehow a lot of folks just can’t stop looking for it there anyway. Their virtual lives crave virtual love and that's all they get –if they're "lucky". A bit melancholy all this stuff for sure, even with its  instances of ironic humour. 

But the big picture is that CC is clever writ very large indeed, one of the most refreshing and effervescent evenings of Vancouver theatre BLR has enjoyed in the year-plus this blog has run. And run you should, too, to take this in – quick-quick-quick – in the short month it’s here. Until May 18th. 


Friday, 19 April 2013

A game trip down memory lane on Granville Island

My Turquoise Years [MTY] is Marion Farrant's stage adaptation of her 2004 memoir of the same name. It recounts what life was like for her living in Cordova Bay outside Sidney, BC with her aunt and uncle -- her surrogate parents -- because her Australian mother Nancy ditched her dad and her when Marion was five to seek romance and live the fast life on cruise ships, which she did to a fault. 

It's 1960, Marion [Bridget Esler] is 13 and beginning to bud. The play acts out the memories she has of that time taken from the diary Farrant kept religiously. Dramatic tension is occasioned by two influences : Marion's warm but edgy relationship with her demanding Aunt Elsie, certainly, but even more by the omnipresent spook Nancy. Now eight years later with no contact but some tardy and tasteless birthday gifts, Nancy wires that she is coming to BC to visit Marion et al in a week. Angst levels inflate and magnify.

Chief protagonist of MTY is Elsie [Wendy Noel] who is a classic blue collar mom of the times : utterly direct, pushy, to the point, full of "bloody" this and "bloody" that, frumpy in her housedress, no thought not worth verbalizing. Noel aces Elsie's persona. She carries the play almost single-handedly from her diaphragm. Elsie proves how you don't choose family; family are what you get. And how good what you get is just fate.

Quickly we're introduced as well to Elsie's sister Maudie [Dawn Petten], her son Kenny [Michael Rinaldi] who's a layabout; Elsie's newly-married elder daughter Doreen [Georgina Beaty]; Dad Billy [David Marr] whose job keeps him in Vancouver but he faithfully ferries over to visit Marion every other week-end; Marion's uncle and week-day dad Ernie [Peter Anderson]; and, importantly, Marion's "bosom buddy" Jenny, also played by Beaty. Marion and Jenny's best-friend beach scenes are wonderful snapshots of kids greeting with secret hand-slaps, doing gobs of tell-all, imagining aloud what sex is all about and plotting a whack of goofy schemes and plots. 

Director Rachel Ditor's blocking and staging of the numerous women-kibitzing-with-women pieces, particularly, were terrific. Family secrets, bits of gossip, grievances about their hubbies (current, former, alive, dead), menopause onset, raising kids, fears for the future, jibes at perpetrators of ill-will, recipes and Rx's to deal with infidelities and affairs -- as stage pieces these bits work juicily. Brava! to all.

MTY highlights the roles men and women played at that time when "a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do" and the women meekly submitted. Not to forget Ozzie & Harriet. Betty Frieden's breakthrough challenge to all this stylized role-playing -- The Feminine Mystique -- was still three years away from hitting book stores.

MTY's intimate scenes of interplay among Marion's adoptive family are like a Stuart Maclean Vinyl Cafe sketch except more earthy. The idioms of the day -- "Cross my heart and hope to die"; "Krikey!"; "She'll brain me"; "She wears, you know, 'falsies'!"; "Jeez, for real ?"; "Wild horses couldn't make me..."; "Go all the way?"; "Old people 'doing it' -- how icky can you get?"; "You smell to high heaven" -- these are all note-perfect from 1960, for sure. Via such great lines Act 1 ends abruptly with everyone's continued mad-dash responses over the spook's soon-to-come arrival.

Farrant gives readers a hint of foreshadowing about Act 2 in the playwright's program notes. And sure enough, the wacky-yakky but intimate dialogue of Act 1 stops abruptly. Farrant explains why: "...I have added 'flesh' in the name of theatricality to make the memoir work better onstage." 

The second act's "theatricality" comes in two forms: a switch to slapstick schticks, and the interjection of a couple of song-&-dance routines. It starts with an over-made-up hairdresser replete with pillowed derriere Rae-Ella (Dawn Patten), whose every syllable is highlighted with wildly overstated gestures and melodramatic voice crescendos and wide-eyed double-takes. Not one scintilla of realism here, either intended or in fact.

Then come the men -- Billy, Ernie and Kenny -- doing an ersatz Elvis number with accompanying soft-shoe. Next we find Ernie and Elsie making nice and making time with choreographed slap-butt antics in the kitchen.

While the audience seemed to enjoy the second act shenanigans -- particularly the ballad "If you really want to love me treat me nice" -- all this artificial "theatricality" I felt detracted from the central catharsis Marion was working through. (My companions last evening did not 100% agree with me on that.)

Playing Marion, Bridget Esler [a senior at Little Flower Academy] has a difficult task: how to dramatize pages of a diary. Her delivery often sounded more like a reading than true acting, particularly in her many explanatory monologues. Better were the scenes of her listening to her elders or eavesdropping on them all the while madly scribbling notes in her diary -- these scenes were well thought out and delivered. The ingenue writer as camera and sponge. And not to forget the beachside duet she and dad Billy did (naturally, not "theatrically") at the end of Act 1 -- "Don't Fence Me In"-- as a bedtime lullaby. Truly poignant. Esler has sweet sweet pipes. 

As Ernie, Anderson played the part of "victim" husband convincingly. Dawn Petten as Elsie's sister Maudie not so much because of flawed blocking: her quick-step giddy-ups to accommodate son Kenny's every want and demand seemed over-contrived. Michael Rinaldi as Kenny came across strangely disengaged and aloof even for a layabout.

Costume designer Christine Reimer deserves a Jessie nomination for the spot-on garb the characters sported: Elsie's housedresses; Ernie's highwater pants and plastic pencil pocket; Kenny's Elvis get-up; Marion's shorts and turquois-y swim suits.

Alison Green's set was clever but a bit over-cluttered in concept and execution. Kudos for the screen-door'd 1950's kitchen and nearby living room with its black-&-white rabbit-ears t.v. -- they worked extremely well. Also the large 3-D crashing wave behind all this symbolically links birth-mom in Oz with real-Mom in Cordova Bay -- a cool touch -- as were the downstage beach logs that brought everyone up close and personal. 

MTY offers up much creativity, energy and insight into the foibles and mores and stereotypes of the times. Somewhat uneven as a script and in delivery, it nevertheless rewards viewers with some heart-touching moments of what life seemed to be like 50 years back.

P.S. Did Nancy ever arrive? Not as announced. Later. Of course. As with the earlier birthday presents, "tardy and tasteless". Arrives with new husband Stan on a cruise ship. Marion follows Nancy to her stateroom to chat, but because she had been in the ship's bar into the wee hours singing and carousing, in short order she slides onto her bunk and falls asleep mid-sentence. Marion tells all this in a touching soliloquy at the end of the play. It is clear Marion has learned the lesson earlier noted that Elsie has tried to teach her : you don't choose family; family are what you get. And how good what you get is just fate.


Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Go for a spin with SPIN : not dizzying and very clever

The spin on SPIN playing through Saturday at the Cultch Historical room is this : creator Evalyn Parry spins a nice factoidal yarn about when bike spins were all the rage 120 years back before Model A Fords drove them off the road. More than that : the subject is women and how bikes and bloomers and suffragettes and temperance and advertising all met at the intersection of late 19th century America.

Parry does so primarily in song, but also through free verse poetry, black-&-white psychedelia screen projections and a bike -- her muse -- that’s hung on a mechanic’s rack and ingeniously mic’d up for Brad Hart to thrum and strum and percuss with fervor.

Parry likes double entendre and homonyms a lot for their wordplay, starting right off with a number that says what's about to come is “Two-Wheeled Words To Wield Words”. A bit arch, that. Still, the history lesson to daughter and me last night was clearly a case of  “Who knew…?”

Entering the theatre, we were drawn to a backlit screen that features a Sarah Bernhardt quote which did some quick turns in our heads : “The bicycle is on the way to transforming our way of life more deeply than you might think. All these girls and women who are devouring space are refusing domestic family life,” she said in 1896. Women "refusing domestic family life" in 1896...?!

From there the story pedals forward quickly to the primary subject of the evening’s drama, one “Annie Londonderry”, who famously circumnavigated the earth in 1894-1895 in 15 months. This she did reportedly in response to a wager between two Bostonian rakes whether a (“mere”) woman could do this. The prize was to be $10,000, a swack of dough back in the day.

And how did Annie fund her around-the-world slog on a one-speed ? Selling advertising she pinned to her cycling outfit – word-spins to finance the bike-spins. Even her name morphed from Anne Cohen Kopcovsky to Annie Londonderry because she got $100 from the Massachusetts-based Londonderry Lithia Spring Water Company to sport their advert on her bike and change her name to promote their product.

The tale Parry tells is a case of Around The World In 80 Days meets Annie Get Your Gun and its signature song, Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better. Decades later when he caught wind of this unusual branch in the family tree, grandnephew Peter Zheutlin did the research on Annie and reported thus in the Christian Science Monitor in August, 2006 :

“…[T]he bicycle was Annie’s means of escape from a life constrained by 19th-century expectations of women. By age 18 she was married and had one child; when she left to cycle the world in 1894, she had three young children and a job selling ads for several Boston newspapers. Her husband, Max, was a devout Jew who made a modest living as a peddler. The bicycle, she hoped, would also be her ticket to fame and fortune. For a woman of that era to leave her husband and young children was unimaginable; to do so to bicycle the world was utterly radical…A consummate self-promoter, and a skillful creator of her own myth, Annie became a global celebrity, her adventures reported by newspapers from San Francisco to Saigon and Chicago to Shanghai. Her genius was to seize on the major social phenomenon of her day. The 1890’s was the height of a bicycle craze in the US and Europe [BLR note: 2 million bikes were sold in USA in 1897, one in 30 Americans owned one.]. The women’s movement was in full force, and the bicycle, said Susan B. Anthony, ‘has done more to emancipate women than anything else in history.’”

To tell this story on stage, Parry and Hart worked assiduously to morph Hart’s 1972 CCM Galaxie that he years before had retired to Parry’s basement into a musical instrument to accompany Parry on her electric guitars. Enter the world of piezos thanks to sound designer Anna Friz -- electronic gizmos to generate vibrations that kick to a mixer and make the CCM’s spokes, pedals, saddle and frame a one-man band of intriguing electro-sound even stranger but as clever as anything one might hear on Laurie Brown’s CBC show The Signal.

Over the course of the 80 minute performance Parry’s yarn links a history of women’s clothing and the expression ‘bloomers’ from one Amelia Bloomer, a publisher, in 1850;  how suffragette and temperance advocate Frances Willard came to write a book on cycling techniques for women wannabes;  how cycling allowed women back then “to be free to move their political legs”;  how "Sex sells" was jumped at : e.g. in 1896 via the new printing artform of lithographs the Gladiator Cycle company of Montmartre, Paris featured nude women with racy red hair flying with their bikes -- 90% of which were bought by men of course. (A celebrant of her own and others' "queer" orientation as she calls it, Parry wonders aloud whether Willard was a "pre-outed gay".)

Because life imitates art, just as art imitates life, Parry shills her CD’s and T-shirts shamelessly about 2/3 the way through the show. But no matter, to this ear : so did Annie, and the fact is artists always have to market their creativity to live. “We are the merchandizing overlords of our own merchandizing world in a phantasy of freedom,” Parry monologues. She then closes the show and links these various musings by quoting a letter written to her by Annie’s granddaughter Mary.  

Mary states that Annie’s leaving her three young children with their dad Max all due to the reported “wager” was not championed by the family. Parry surmises more likely the wager angle to justify her jaunt was simply “the first story Annie told just to get out of the house”.  Mary relates that the emotional impact of Annie's round-the-world adventure on Max and the kids and later the grandkids was not healthy, even after Annie "re-nested" and moved the family to New York upon returning from her trip. For a short time thereafter she wrote features for the N.Y. World promoting her "new woman" values, but Wiki reports Annie died unheralded and “in obscurity” in 1947. Still, Parry’s closing song asserts her own abiding worldview regardless : “Don’t give up on anything / One might miss the miracle.”

Director Ruth Madoc-Jones orchestrates tight sequencing in the theatrical montage that SPIN is. Projectionist / lighter / production designer Beth Kates pulls terrific technical values together : the 19th century women cycling in full dresses and corsets around pylons was worth more than 1,000 words. Production manager and technical director Charissa Wilcox earned every shekel keeping the production moving along apace. Brad Hart had thrilling riffs playing the Galaxie. Parry's voice and lyrics and spoken poetry bounce well off the Cultch walls to engaged ears.

This show will appeal, obviously, to cyclists; to historians interested in the connect between bloomers and bikes and the dream of emancipation a century back; and to folks who relate to clever stories spun out with head and heart and humour. 


Thursday, 11 April 2013

God and the Indian is very timely viewing

How does one parse evil? What the Oxford Compact Thesaurus differentiates as villainy, degeneracy, and immorality -vs- barbarity, atrocity, monstrosity.  The Canadian residential schools nightmare -vs- Eichmann’s death camps. One “may”, but one “can’t” win that debate. Without saying so expressly, that is one subtext of Drew Hayden Taylor’s play that had its international premiere last night at the Firehall Arts Centre. Evil is as evil does. It does not parse.

The plot is simple. Rev. George King, an Anglican priest, has been promoted to Assistant Bishop in an urban diocese. The morning after the party celebrating his annunciation he stops at a downtown Tim Horton’s for a cup of  coffee. There he is spotted by “Johnny Indian”, a native panhandler who follows him back to his offices. Johnny confronts King and accuses him of being the teacher from St. Mark’s Residential School who sexually abused and raped her, repeatedly, when she was just 12.

The play proceeds in the manner of an intervention : Johnny (Tantoo Cardinal) attempts to get King (Michael Kopsa) to confess to his 40-year-old crimes, which for 120 minutes he denies, then confesses, obliquely, sort of – always as a churchy fellow, not a person. Married, teen kids, loving wife, this is an ugly and visceral confrontation. George hasn't faced anything like it in his life. That he perhaps is guilty of causing equal or worse pain to another years back he refuses to face. 

The dialogue flips back-&-forth between the two with Assistant Bishop King rhyming off institutional cant and stock denials of any personal complicity or guilt. Johnny, by contrast, wants to optimize this chance meeting, have it lead to her healing. When ABK asks her who she is in the opening moments, she responds : “Who I am today, that is quite a question…!”  The depth of her meaning is lost on the man of the cloth.

Indian is directed by Renae Morriseau, herself of aboriginal stock, who says the play “…takes us on a journey of layered meaning where compassion, reconciliation and the boundaries placed upon forgiveness are explored and developed.” Taylor’s script certainly does just that for the viewers, and the result as a play is very successful, rewarding and relevant. The meta-play between Johnny and King doesn’t achieve resolution, however, because words cannot band-aid experiences. Abuse is not a boo-boo.

King : “I know it’s in vogue to sue the Church for all sorts of wrongful actions, but there has to be some basis of truth and evidence involved. We’re not handing out blank cheques or apologies to whoever walks in the door.”  Johnny : I don’t want any money. Or an apology. No, acknowledgement…that I’m me. Me! I’m Sammy’s sister. I am my parent’s child. I don’t want to be a ghost anymore. I want to exist. To be seen. To be noticed. To be acknowledged. By you and what you’ve done.”  King :  I’m afraid I can’t do that.”

At this point, Johnny pulls a gun out of her bag and aims it at King. Obviously frightened he tells her to put the gun down : “If you do that, I will erase this whole thing from my memory, and you can go on your way. No harm done.”  Johnny : “’No harm done.’ You have a bad habit of picking the wrong phrases. Actually you had a lot of bad habits. Oh I know you tried to ‘save the child by killing the Indian’, but I think some of it managed to hide out somewhere, behind my brown eyes, under my black hair, or beneath my thick skin. Killing an entire people can take a lot of time. I guess 10 years wasn’t long enough.”  Some might argue the “no harm done” line a bit convenient and ham-handed, but in the context of a completely failed communication between "patriarch" and "supplicant", I say it works.

For the balance of the play we see Johnny agonize whether to commit suicide with the pistol and its one bullet she claims it has, or to kill King. In the end, King disarms Johnny by abusing her anew with a direct sensory memory of oranges, oranges that were used at St. Mark’s as Christmas gifts or bribes for sexual favours. Johnny relinquishes the gun and sighs heavily, despondently. She grasps once more what has been her lifelong intuitive wisdom : “There’s nothing for me here.” As for the lost chance to end either King’s life or her own, she adds, resignedly : “Wanting and having are two different things.”

No, how to reconcile Jesus’s challenge of “Suffer the little children to come unto me” with the church’s history of harming and abusing children in the name of Christ will never happen between Johnny and Assistant Bishop King. It can’t. Because words will never deconstruct acts. The diktat of the Christian religion has always debased what the Jew carpenter stood for and meant spiritually, symbolically and existentially, Taylor suggests forcefully.

This play works. It is convincing and compelling on many levels. With the First Nation Truth and Reconciliation Commission winding up its mandate to hear from abused former school residents and their elders, children and children’s children, God and the Indian is a poignant reminder of the reality of residential schools’ 140 year run in Canada at the hands of organized religion (Catholic, Anglican, United and its predecessors) as well as at the hands of parliament through The Gradual Civilization Act [sic] of 1857 and subsequently the Indian Act and amendments thereto.

Doubly compelling a play for Vancouver because of the recently released findings of the Oppal Commission into the slaughter of dozens of missing DTES women, many aboriginal, at the hands of Robert Picton and the role, or lack thereof, of the various suburban police bureaucracies to end the killing spree years earlier. That Firehall Arts Centre is situated right in the heart of DTES at Gore and Cordova where sex trade workers continue to ply the streets makes the juxtaposition all the more poignant. 

The set and lighting design by Lauchlin Johnson are very effective for the diminutive Firehall stage : Assistant Bishop King’s office with backlit projections of a stark residential school bed all amuss; wooden snow shoes; large first-growth birch trees; crates of oranges. Costumes designed by Alex Danard capture well the disconnect between the “man of God” from the church and the “woman of spirit” who lives off the street. The soundscape by Morriseau and Marcos Amaya-Torres is a clever blend of Anglican hymn, Indian drumbeats, and innocent children playing.

As Johnny, Tantoo Cardinal – a Cree/Metis and veteran of some 80 credits from “Dancing With Wolves” to “Black Robe” to “North of 60” to “Moccasin Flats” – turns in a nuanced and idiosyncratic portrayal of a 50-something street person wracked by physical and spiritual torment with just the right shakiness of voice and hand and awkward limp one would expect from a woman suffering her traumas. Assistant Bishop King by Michael Kopsa is nearly 100% objectionable in his unctuous persona – which demonstrates his complete grasp of the role including both its physical and spiritual arthritis.

This is a trenchant, timely, and terrific take on the gulf between members of alienated aboriginal communities and the contemporary commercial world of all us "others". You will come away satisfied that Artistic Director Donna Spencer's challenge to viewers in the program notes has been achieved : "Enjoy, question, and consider !"

Background note #1 :  From University of Manitoba précis highlighting its Leah Carritt Collection on the Brandon Indian Residential School (1936) :

The Canadian parliament administrated the enculturation of Indigenous peoples across Canada with compulsory attendance for children aged 6 to 15 and Christian based curriculum which forbade traditional knowledge and languages. This process of enculturation has been largely referred to as “Killing the Indian, saving the child”. Due to major under-funding from churches and the federal government, the upkeep and subsistence of the residential school depended on the forced labor of students. The compulsory residential school system lasted until 1948 and official closings of residential schools occurred into the 1990s. Residential schools varied in their corporal treatment towards the students, which has culminated in mixed emotions about individual experiences, though overwhelmingly the residential school program has been condemned by Indigenous people and regretted by portions of the Canadian government. The first official state apology to Indigenous peoples over the abuses incurred at residential schools was made in 1998, followed by an open inquiry into individual and community experience through a Truth and Reconciliation program beginning in 2006.

Background note #2 :  From the University of British Columbia’s Indigenous Foundations website :

The residential school system is viewed by much of the Canadian public as part of a distant past, disassociated from today’s events. In many ways, this is a misconception. The last residential school [in BC] did not close its doors until 1986. Many of the leaders, teachers, parents, and grandparents of today’s Aboriginal communities are residential school survivors. There is, in addition, an intergenerational effect: many descendents of residential school survivors share the same burdens as their ancestors even if they did not attend the schools themselves. These include transmitted personal trauma and compromised family systems, as well as the loss in Aboriginal communities of language, culture, and the teaching of tradition from one generation to another.

According to the Manitoba Justice Institute, residential schools laid the foundation for the epidemic we see today of domestic abuse and violence against Aboriginal women and children. Generations of children have grown up without a nurturing family life. As adults, many of them lack adequate parenting skills and, have only experienced abuse, in turn abuse their children and family members. This high incidence of domestic violence among Aboriginal families results in many broken homes, perpetuation the cycle of abuse and dysfunction over generations.

Many observers have argued that the sense of worthlessness that was instilled in students by the residential school system contributed to extremely low self-esteem. This has manifested itself in self-abuse, resulting in high rates of alcoholism, substance abuse, and suicide. Among First Nations people aged 10 to 44, suicide and self-inflicted injury is the number one cause of death, responsible for almost 40 percent of mortalities. First Nations women attempt suicide eight times more often than other Canadian women, and First Nations men attempt suicide five times more often than other Canadian men. Some communities experience what have been called suicide epidemics.

Note on the playwright : Drew Hayden Taylor billboards himself as "the blue-eyed Ojibway". Originally from Curve Lake First Nations in central Ontario decades back, Taylor considers humour his primary metier as playwright, essayist and speaker promoting aboriginal issues and causes. Asked at Opening Night by this reviewer why he deviated from his usual humour to write God and the Indian, he replied : "As a challenge. A friend asked whether I had it in me to write something serious, so I decided to tackle the most serious subject involving Canadian aboriginal people that I could think of. Residential schools. That's it."