Saturday, November 12, 2011

Review: (Toronto) The Rez Sisters

(l-r) Cara Gee, Pamela Sinha (Photo: Jeremy Mimnagh)

It's about Sisterhood
Factory puts a controversy to rest
by Beat Rice

I now understand why theatre school makes me learn about The Rez Sisters in Canadian Theatre history class. It is indeed a landmark in Canadian theatre. 

First premiering in 1986, Tomson Highway’s play makes a wonderful comeback at the Factory Theatre. The play tells the story of seven women living on a reserve on Manitoulin Island who decide to journey to ‘The Biggest Bingo in the World’ in Toronto. There, they hope to achieve their hopes and dreams by winning $500,000 in prize money. Each character has different plans in life, and we learn about them from their aspirations.  

Directed by Ken Gass, this production of The Rez Sisters features a multicultural cast. It works so well on so many levels. 

The play has moments of sadness, hilarity, tension, and tragedy. Highway’s writing is smooth and never jarring. One thing I absolutely love about the production was when the entire audience was asked to participate in a big Bingo game. Everyone is given a Bingo card, the house lights come up, and we get to join in the exhilarating pep that the women have with the game. 

The spirit of Nanabush also has a role in the play. Played by Billy Merasty - the only male in the cast - Nanabush, in the form of a bird, looks over the women; only Marie-Adele Starblanket (Pamela Sinha) and Zhaboonigan Peterson (Cara Gee) can see him. Kyra Harper plays Philomena Moosetail, Jani Lauzon plays Pelajia Patchnose, Djennie Laguerre plays Annie Cook, Michaela Washburn plays Emily Dictionary, and Jean Yoon plays Veronique St. Pierre. 

There were some choices that were not appealing. Some of the montages of action seemed to go on for too long, and the beats in between them felt lagged. Some background music choices also seemed redundant. Theme music would often come in and fade out quickly making me wonder why it was even a cue in the first place. The music did make clear the excitement of the women, but was not always necessary, because it was all in the writing.

Directed by Ken Gass, this production of The Rez Sisters features a multicultural cast. It works so well on so many levels. We see a cast that reflects the community, but most of all, we see the women and their stories. It does not matter what one’s cultural background is, we all have desires, dreams, and we are constantly in search for something more. The casting only further proves why this play is still relevant today. We get to know these women; we see their generosity and their faults through their stories, and how they treat each other. Even when they argue and fight and gossip maliciously about each other, they also look out for one another. The bond of sisterhood transcends all racial labels and material objects. 

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