Reckoning explores the effects of the Residential School system at Toronto’s Theatre Centre
Article 11‘s Reckoning, on now at The Theatre Centre, is the kind of show I wish was on a huge, mainstream stage. It’s the kind of show everyone living on this land should be required to see in school.
Reckoning is a triptych, telling the story – within three stories – of Canada’s violent, racist Residential School system, and the residual effects that system still has on everyone – especially those who survived it. It’s not easy to watch, but it feels very necessary.
In the wake of the suicides in Attawapiskat, with the #OccupyINAC movement growing steadily, and with more and more people talking about colonialism in Canada, the timing of this show has a synchronicity to it.
It’s a show I feel conflicted about even reviewing. To review something so touching, so personal, a story about the horrific past and origins of “Canada” almost seems trivial. But the story is a crucial element to understanding the past and the present.
In the first part we see the descent (into madness? despair? hopelessness?) of an interviewer (the witness, played by John Ng): someone tasked with reviewing claims made to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. While visually and aurally stunning, we also hear incredibly disturbing audio outlining: Qualifications required of interviewers; Graphic details of sexual abuse and non-sexual violence; A macabre “points” system and how monetary settlements were awarded to survivors.
The second part – the daughter – begins on a lighter note, but fairly quickly turns ugly. Without giving too much away, it deals with a complex union between a residential school survivor, and the child of an accused abuser. The way it plays out the still-present power dynamics between settler and colonized was nuanced and powerful. Performances by Glen Gould and PJ Prudat blew me away.
The third part was, in my opinion, the most powerful. A survivor of the schools – Jonathan Fisher – is leaving a message for his nephew Chuck (voiced by Jesse Wabigijig). Through creative camera and projection work, he recalls horrific, painful memories- all culminating into what seems to be a tragic end. But will re-connecting with his sister (voice by Lena Recollet) change his direction?
My companion and I both left feeling very confused, deeply stirred, and somehow rooted. We both gained some new perspective, and we both agreed that what we saw and heard won’t soon leave us.
I’d like to challenge every settler of European descent to see Reckoning. I want to challenge us to examine the history of Canada, and the legacy of colonization from which we still benefit daily. Learning the truth about the genocide, enslavement, and abuse inflicted upon the Indigenous inhabitants of this land we now call home – while also supporting Indigenous artists like Article 11 – is the very least we can do.
I’d like to challenge us to not look away, to make those connections between the past and present, to get angry, and – most importantly – to listen.
- Reckoning is playing until April 24, 2016 at The Theatre Centre (1115 Queen Street West)
- Shows run Tuesday to Saturday at 8:30pm, with additional matinees on Saturdays and Sundays at 2:30pm
- Ticket prices range from $12 – $28, with PWYC on Saturday matinees and are available online, or through the box office at 416-538-0988. PWYC tickets are cash only and are available at the door two hours before show time
- Content warning: descriptions of historical and sexual violence, and loud noises.
- Community support workers and traditional medicines are available to all
Photo of John Ng provided by the company