click here for more information vancouverplays

by Yvette Nolan
Native Earth Performing Arts
Firehall Arts Centre
Oct. 12-22
$24/$20 at 604-689-0926

Earlier this year, Gastown’s Spirit Wrestler Gallery presented a spectacular show of contemporary aboriginal art work from BC and Maori art from New Zealand. Juxtaposing the painting, carving, masks and jewelry of the two cultures revealed startling similarities. It was clear that the artists themselves were influenced by working with their colleagues from across the Pacific. It was a fabulous idea, beautifully executed.

The theatrical equivalent of that intercultural collaboration is currently at the Firehall. Honouring Theatre, produced by Toronto’s Native Earth Performing Arts, is a festival of three indigenous plays, one each from Australia (Windmill Baby), New Zealand (Frangipani Perfume), and Canada (Annie Mae’s Movement). This is its last stop on a Canadian tour. A 2007 version is planned for Australia. New Zealand will host the festival in 2008.

Unlike the art exhibit where all the objects shared the same room, the full effect of this event can only be experienced by seeing the three plays individually over two or three days. Without having seen the other two, I can only guess at how Yvette Nolan’s Annie Mae’s Movement, a passionately direct but ragged telling of a sad North American aboriginal story, might echo in the other indigenous cultures and the tales they tell.

Annie Mae Pictou Aquash was a Mi’kmaq activist from Nova Scotia who became involved with AIM, the American Indian Movement, in the 1970s. She took part in the Wounded Knee protest at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota and worked with AIM in California before returning to Pine Ridge where she was arrested in connection with the deaths of two FBI agents on the reserve in 1975. Amid rumours that she was a government agent, Annie Mae was found murdered on the reserve in 1976. The controversy surrounding her death continues today.

Michelle St. John gives a very strong performance as Annie Mae, a fighter whose battles against the egotism, corruption and especially sexism within AIM were as difficult as those she helped wage against a Machiavellian US government that aimed to crush what it saw as a subversive terrorist organization.

Grahame Merke plays all the men in Annie’s life including her husband, AIM leader Dennis Banks who became her lover and betrayer, and various FBI agents. Merke is solid, especially as the sleazy Banks, but doesn’t always clearly distinguish his characters from one another, adding another layer of confusion to a story told in fragments with many gaps.

The stage is unadorned and the staging fairly crude. Director Nolan doesn’t provide much assistance to playwright Nolan. The strength of the play resides in this powerful woman herself, a woman who won’t be silenced even in death. “You can kill me but you can’t kill us all!”

Jerry Wasserman

last updated: Tuesday, October 17, 2006 12:25 PM
website design by Linda Fenton Malloy