At Presentation House until April 9 and Studio 16 from April 12-16
Posted April 1, 2017
With so many blood-curdling, realistic depictions of war in the movies and on TV, it’s challenging to stage a war on stage – especially in an intimate setting like Presentation House. So creators Raes Calvert and Sean Harris Oliver (who also directs) don’t try for realism; they go for Art.
From the moment Renaltta Arluk appears, hooded, pricked out in light with her arms slowly moving up in down in bird-like fashion, REDPATCH sets the stage for a hyper-artistic presentation. And when the rest of the characters, briefly masked, crawl and creep out from behind massive (yet easily moveable) boulders, we get it. This Hardline Productions show is a blend of dance (choreographed by Oliver), drama (WWI story of a Métis volunteer) and First Nations’ mysticism. This could all work but does so only sporadically.
But this world premiere is all heart and enthusiasm and boasts an all-indigenous cast; even those characters that are non-Native are portrayed by actors with roots from Inuk/Dene (Arluk) to French/Algonquin/Huron/Micmac/Nipissing (Emilie Leclerc).
It’s a stretch to accept the three female actors Arluk, Leclerc and Chelsea Rose Tucker as fighting men – especially since their weapons are broom handles. I know, I know, it’s symbolic but still. Sgt. MacGuinty, a name going back centuries in Ireland, is played with an accent that approaches – but o’er reaches – Scottish. And in the thick of battle, MacGuinty appears, spit-spot, as if he’s just dropping by from the Officers’ Mess to check up on the boys. No sweat. No dirt. No blood. Doesn’t ring true.
Perhaps you have to be a First Nations man to understand where wanting to be “a warrior” comes from. More than anything, that’s what Half-Blood (Calvert) wants to be. And during the play, that’s what he becomes – that is, if warrior means ‘killer’. Half-Blood goes on a killing rampage, notching his kills up on a shovel with which he dispatches “the Boche”. “Germans, they’re not monsters”, he says, “They’re men like us”. Yet that is not enough to stop him. Bam-Bam (Leclerc), Dickie (Tucker), Howard Thomas (Joel D. Montgrand) and Jonathon (Deneh’Cho Thompson) come to rely on his superior tracking skill and are in awe of the killing machine Half-Blood has become.
It’s strange, therefore, how easily the men turn on him, Half-Blood having saved their skins again and again.
Lighting designer Bradley A. Trenaman creates some spectacular lighting effects as bombs are falling and grenades exploding.
In spite of my reservations about this production, congratulations go to Presentation House for premiering REDPATCH, a reference to a patch that First Nations soldiers in WWI wore on their sleeve. It’s not clear in the play for what purpose they were being singled out but regardless of ethnicity, there were almost eleven thousand casualties amongst the Canadian Corps at Vimy Ridge, commemorated in this play.