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by Blair Woynarski
It can’t possibly be that difficult to fix all the problems afflicting a Northern Canadian Reserve.
At least, that is what Heather Rose thinks. After becoming a nurse, she travels to a remote reserve in northern Ontario with a copy of the Canada Food Guide and a can-do attitude, expecting that everything will work out fine. It doesn’t.
The Occupation of Heather Rose is opening this week at the Refinery. The play is a monodrama written by playwright and former New Democrat MP Wendy Lill, based on her own experiences. It takes an unflinching look at the problems plaguing remote Aboriginal communities, and the inanity of the solutions proposed to fix them.
“Heather’s a lot like most of us, thinking that a positive attitude and a giving heart are all you need to change people’s lives,” said Kristina Hughes. “She hasn’t got the first idea of what she’s going into.”
Hughes shoulders the responsibility for this one-woman show, assuming the role of Heather Rose as she relates to the audience her early optimism, eventual disillusionment, and anger with the bureaucracy for their out-of-touch attempts at fixing the situation.
At the beginning of the show, the audience is complicit in her naïveté and post-colonialist thinking, that all it will take to help the people on the reserve is for them to be more like her. And then the audience, along with Heather, has their eyes opened to the reality.
“There is no economy on some of these reserves,” said Hughes. “There is no proper water… a four litre jug of milk costs $15.”
Given those challenges, it becomes clear that a nutrition guide and a few exercise classes are not going to do much to improve people’s lives.
It is a political play, said Hughes; Wendy Lill “finds these subjects that no one wants to talk about.” Heather Rose was written in 1987, but the issues raised are just as relevant today.
However, it is much more than just a political statement. Hughes calls it “an emotional roller coaster.” It is at times poignantly funny, at times horrific and at times hauntingly beautiful. “The imagery of this play is so amazing.”
Kristina Hughes graduated from the University of Saskatchewan’s drama department in 2004. Recently she has appeared in The Walnut Tree, on Persephone’s mainstage in 2009, and in the Globe Theatre’s production of Metamorphoses, as part of the Globe Theatre acting conservatory. Heather Rose, however, is a personal venture for her.
The script was brought to her by director Trevor Schmidt (of Edmonton’s Northern Light Theatre), and they decided to mount it for this year’s Live Five season. Hughes takes on the role of co-producer; the production is being put on by Magdalene Theatre, an independent theatre company run by Hughes and University of Saskatchewan drama student Courtney Lato.
This is also Hughes’ first experience doing a one-woman show. She said it presented a new challenge because, “I really feed off of other people,” but the imagery within the script provided her with enough inspiration to stay energized.
Heather Rose is a seldom-seen piece of theatre that confronts the darkness in all of us. It takes the audience on a twisting emotional journey, and, at the end, Hughes said, “I hope the audience feels compelled to take a second look at their own prejudices.”
The Occupation of Heather Rose is in performances at the Refinery in Saskatoon, February 10-13 and 17-20, 2011. Click here for more information.
This article was first posted on thesheaf.com in February, 2011.