VANCOUVER – Drew Hayden Taylor has produced a number of plays with Firehall Theatre in Vancouver’s downtown eastside but God and the Indian is by far the most brilliant.
The play’s development took over five years, with many rewrites by the Curve Lake playwright before actress Tantoo Cardinal expressed an interest.
The acclaimed actress plays the lead character, Johnnie Indian, a woman who lives with ghosts 40 years after residential school. Let the brilliance begin.
Cardinal brings her trademark ability to go inside her character’s deep and painful infected scars while also finding humour in the everyday, and goodness in dark corners. These survival skills have kept Johnnie alive on the street until the fateful day when she encounters a teacher from St. David’s at –of course – a Tim Horton’s. That teacher, who is now Anglican Assistant Bishop George King, is played to perfection by Michael Kopsa.
There are so many excellent lines in the play it’s hard to know where to begin. They are delivered as soon as Johnnie strolls into the assistant bishop’s office. When he realizes a street person has dared to enter his private space, he tells her, “We can’t help you here.”
Johnnie, with the depth of knowledge and wit found in many residential school survivors, retorts, “If you’d told me that 40 years ago you would have saved you and I a lot of trouble.”
Later, as cleric tries to determine who she is, Johnnie replies, “I know who I used to be; I know who I am supposed to be…the name you guys gave me — there’s too many bad memories”. Which is precisely why she chose a new name.
When King tries to convince Johnnie she thinks he is someone else, she says: “You’re a hard man to forget.”
Director Renae Morriseau helps create a tension that builds until the audience starts to wonder if Johnnie just might have the wrong man, so earnestly does the assistant bishop speak of his innocence. But this play is about the ghosts, which haunt the clergyman just as much as Johnnie.
There are no current plans to produce Taylor’s play in his home province. Let’s change that.