God and The Indian explores the legacy of residential schools on the Toronto stage
There’s no way to undo the damage of the residential school system, but stories about them need to be shared, explored and honoured, as is done in Drew Hayden Taylor’s new play God And The Indian produced by Native Earth (in partnership with Firehall Arts Centre). It captures an evening between two people, Assistant Bishop George King and Johnny, a Cree woman who has recognized him from her youth in a residential school and followed him home. It’s fiction, but like all good art, it tells truth.
Johnny is panhandling outside a coffee shop when she sees King’s familiar face. She suffers from the effects of oppression and childhood trauma, including mental illness, addiction and poverty. She’s also clever, even brilliant in her own disturbed way, and determined to torment King until she extracts a confession. Even King’s disgusting tactic of plying her with alcohol does not phase her.
While Johnny, played with heart and spirit by Lisa C Ravensbergen, is the manic, twisted, charming scene-stealer of the show, King, played by Thomas Hauff has a subtle complexity that makes him more than just a stereotypical predator. Hauff portrays the Assistant Bishop as a man whose congenial nature hides a battle between self-interest and conscience, with self-interest consistently having the edge. Still, it is apparent that while the native youth imprisoned in the schools were victimized the most, there is also a toll taken on the white men who were expected to enact the violence and/or keep it secret.
In fact, the show never gives us a definitive answer on what exactly King is guilty of. Johnny might be conflating him with other priests who worked at the school all those years ago. She hardly ever accuses him of anything specific, and her indictments are dressed up in frenzied flights of fancy.
I was very eager to see a new play by Drew Hayden Taylor, and even with high expectations I was impressed. The script takes very careful and purposeful steps in addressing the loaded topic of sexual abuse, which was rife in the residential school system. There are moments to laugh and moments to cry, and every moment (in the play and in life) is a time to be critical of colonialism.
This show is very timely right now as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada is about to come to a close. But even though it ends, the history remains, and God And The Indian will always be a relevant play.
- God And The Indian is playing at Native Earth‘s Aki Studio, 585 Dundas St East, until May 17th
- Showtimes are Tuesday – Saturday at 8 pm and Sundays at 2 pm
- Ticket prices range from $15-$25 with Student/Elder/Arts Worker discounts and Pay-What-You-Can Tuesdays
- Purchase tickets online or at 416.531.1402
Photo of Thomas Hauff and Lisa C. Ravensbergen by akipari