Ottawa, ON, Mar 29, 2010 — Where the Blood Mixes is running in the Studio at the National Arts Centre through April 3. Resident theatre critic Connie Meng was at the opening night and has our review.
WHERE THE BLOOD MIXES by Kevin Loring is the winner of the 2009 Governor General's Literature Award for Drama. It deals with confronting the painful past of Canada's Residential schools for Aboriginal Canadians. Most Americans are familiar with the Aboriginal situation in Australia, but may not realize there is a similar past in Canada. The last of these schools was closed only in 1984. The Federal government is working with a Truth and Reconciliation Commission and in June of 2008 Prime Minister Harper delivered an apology to the First Nations People in the House of Commons.
Mr. Loring's play explores one of the most brutal aspects of the system - the separation of families and of children from their parents and culture. Set where the Fraser and Thompson Rivers meet, the play tells the story of Floyd and his daughter Christine who, after two decades, has come home to meet her father. The playwright deals with the subject matter using vivid characters, great honesty and a surprising amount of humor.
The flexible set, designed by Robert Lewis, consists of a platform backed by a scrim with three large curved steps on either end. There's space on the left end for the Musician and a bar directly below. Patricia Smith's costumes are fine, especially June's dress.
Itai Erdal has lit the play with great delicacy. The projections by Jamie Nesbitt and Carl Stromquist are striking, in particular the final one. I also liked the subtle sound of the river.
Musician Jason Burnstick is listed as part of the cast, as well he should be. With his rack of four instruments, weissenborns, (hollow neck slide guitars), and lap slides, both single and double neck, he provides terrific underscoring that supports the play without ever becoming intrusive.
Kim Harvey does a nice job as Christine. She's quite touching in the first meeting with her father Floyd, played by Billy Merasty. As the play went on, Mr. Merasty relaxed to become wholly human, especially in the powerful reconciliation scene.
Tom McBeath is excellent as George, the bartender. His reaction to a request for ginger ale is wonderful. As the well-named Mooch, Ben Cardinal's fish story is one of the high points of humor, but he also reveals unexpected depths in the character.
In perhaps the strongest performance, Margo Kane gives us a wonderfully three-dimensional June, Mooch's girl friend. Fed up with his drinking and thieving, she finally stands up for herself. As an old friend of Christine's mother, she's able to ease the reunion with Floyd.
Director Glynis Leyshon has found all the humor in the play and also the self-hatred engendered in Floyd and Mooch by their school experiences. She also makes us aware that the growth of maturity in the two men has been stunted - one of the school's long-term effects.
Although I found the production a bit uneven, playwright Loring has found a way through both truth and humor to tell a story that needs to be heard.
On a scale of one to five the Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company and the Belfry Theatre Revival production in association with The Savage Society presented by the NAC English Theatre and Vancouver 2010 Cultural Olympiad gets four and one third Royal Canadian Mounted Police. For North Country Public Radio I'm Connie Meng.