MARCH 2022 | Volume 213
Photo of Sam Bob and Shekhar Paleja by Emily Cooper in consultation with Kevin Loring.
Little Red Warrior and His Lawyer
by Kevin Loring
Savage Society (Vancouver) and Belfry (Victoria) in assoc. with National Arts Centre Indigenous Theatre (Ottawa)
York Theatre, 639 Commercial Dr.
www.thecultch.com or 604-251-1363
In the press release for Little Red Warrior and His Lawyer, playwright and director Kevin Loring, one of the genuine stars of Canada’s vibrant Indigenous theatre scene, describes it as “a story about land claims from the perspective of Coyote, our sacred profane Trickster.” He adds, “In Trickster stories, no one walks away unscathed.” Those statements explain much more about this fascinating play from Loring and his Savage Society company than I can hope to add here.
A sometimes very broad and often funny satire, the play centres on Little Red Warrior, the last surviving member of his nation (played by Gordon Patrick White at the performance I saw, alternating with Sam Bob, shown here in the photo). When he finds his territory being developed for condos, he gets a slick court-appointed lawyer, Larry (Shekhar Paleja), who keeps trying to get Little Red to say “abuse.”Larry decides they should go for a land claim, and takes Little Red home with him, where Red gets seduced by Larry’s aggressive lawyer wife, Desdemona (Luisa Jojic).
Some of this is narrated by a street guy (Kevin McNulty), who becomes various judges in the ensuing courtroom scenes. The early action swirls around Little Red who, while confident, seems a bit of a yokel. He describes his territory this way: “You can smell a moose fart for miles. Plus, we got cable.” The arrogant, urbane lawyers seem in total control. But Red gets in a few good ones at both Larry’s and Mona’s expense.
Loring also cleverly, and chillingly, references residential schools when a judge sentences Red by strapping him across the hands in slo-mo to the sound of “Ave Maria.” And when Larry prepares his land claims case, we get a condensed, minute-long summation of Canada-First Nations relations from first contact to the present.
The play really takes off as a Trickster tale once the trials begin. The lawyer for the developers offers her own land acknowledgment: “We are on stolen land that our ancestors wanted us to steal – and we did.” The arguments themselves are verbally reduced to “blablabla” but presented as wild gestural dances. Jojic’s are especially great.
After a series of appeals comes the tour de force climax that involves the Queen (Nick Miami Benz). I can’t say more for fear of spoiling it, but it’s mind-blowing and fabulous. The surprise ending that follows is Tricksteration supreme. As Loring says, no one walks away unscathed.
Though it takes a while to get into gear, the play ultimately finds its way pretty spectacularly. Paleja’s Larry is excessively mannered at the start, but he settles in well by the end. Jojic is ferocious and delicious, and White plays Little Red’s faux-naiveté perfectly. McNulty’s understated performance provides a nice counterpoint. And Benz’s Queen … wow!
John Doucet’s resonant set resembles a colonial stockade, and offers some great surprises when the trials introduce the Crown and the Queen. I loved Troy Slocum’s soundscape, especially the drumming and women wailing every time “land claims” are mentioned. Samantha McCue’s costume for the Queen is … well … transcendent.
Loring’s seductive, subversive comedy provides another necessary nudge to our shifting perspective on this country of ours. As Little Red Warrior says, “O Canada, our home on Native land.”
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