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By Jeanette Stewart
In Saskatchewan Native Theatre’s ongoing production of Where the Blood Mixes, we are once again reminded that through art there is a way to tell the darkest stories in a way that is both enjoyable and human.
The Saskatchewan Native Theatre Company (SNTC) has made a brilliant choice in staging Kevin Loring‘s award-winning script Where the Blood Mixes to round out the 2011/2012 season.
Loring’s script has garnered well-deserved acclaim and has been staged across Canada, earning the 2009 Governor General’s Literary Award for Drama. The SNTC’s version is honest, heartfelt and well executed. It also benefits greatly from the inclusion of musician Lindsay “Eekwol” Knight, who brings her powerful skills and stage presence to the production.
Where the Blood Mixes is the story of Floyd (Curtis Peeteetuce) and his friend Mooch (Robert Benz), who grew up in the residential schools together. Their harmony is shifted when Floyd’s daughter Christine (Falen Johnson) finds her father and asks to come to the reserve for a visit. Her phone call begins to coax Floyd’s emotional ghosts to the surface – the death of Christine’s mother, his residential school upbringing and having his daughter taken from him – memories he’s managed to keep at bay with alcohol.
Meanwhile, Mooch is continuously stealing beer money from his hard-edged girlfriend June, played by Carol Greyeyes, who has managed to find a peace with her upbringing and is trying to take care of herself and Mooch. Greyeyes is deft and understated in the role, and as June she gives Christine the answers she is seeking about her past.
Loring based the production on stories from his own home reserve, the Nlaka’pamux First Nation in Lytton, B.C. While the characters could come off as cliches, they are rendered visceral and real by excellent acting. If the plot is predictable, the actors deliver a sense of authenticity to each situation.
Curtis Peeteetuce is fantastic as Floyd, drawing into himself as he confronts his past, delivering the unspeakable emotions via small, slouching nuances. The actors do wonders with the script, which is laced throughout with humour. Each time it becomes too heavy, it is lifted with a dose of laughter. While the dialogue reveals glimpses of philosophy and spirituality, it is done in a way that never feels contrived.
In this story at least, Christine is adopted into a family that loves her. As a journalist I’ve heard too many heartbreaking stories of families torn apart by the system, and it feels all too real to watch the defeat of a father who loves his daughter but is unable to care for her on his own.
It feels particularly analogous to Saskatchewan’s foster care system, which is rife with its own devastating stories of loss and tragedy in the even darker shadow of the residential school legacy. Everyone is walking wounded because of it.
“No matter how long ago it was, it happened today. It happened tomorrow and it will keep happening,” Mooch says, talking about the impact of his upbringing.
The play has an easy, dreamlike flow under the direction of Philip Adams and ends almost abruptly, as if suddenly awoken from a deep sleep.
This play should really be required viewing for all Canadians, in the way it illuminates the history of our country, allowing the viewer to ponder the depths without ever being pulled under.
This review first appeared online on The StarPhoenix on March 8, 2012.