By Barb Nahwegahbow
TORONTO—A mysterious horse appears to a family that is grieving a devastating loss in Spirit Horse, a play that was adapted by Drew Hayden Taylor from the Irish play, Tir Na N’Og by Greg Banks. Spirit Horse was on stage at Young Peoples Theatre in Toronto last month.
A citizen of Curve Lake First Nation, Taylor said in the program notes, “When I was originally asked to adapt Tir Na N’Og, I wasn’t sure what connection a play about Irish gypsies had with Native Canadians, specifically the Stoney Nokoda people of Alberta.” As he thought about it, he found many similarities between the two cultures. “Both are horse cultures. Both have been marginalized by the larger dominant cultures they exist in. Both have traditions older than time itself. And more importantly, both love their children dearly.”
Taylor spoke with people of the Stoney Nakoda Nation and found a legend that was filled with, “magical horses, mysterious lakes, and people rising to meet challenges. You must keep in mind that to the Stoney people, this isn’t just a story. It’s truth.”
Spirit Horse is a high-energy and engaging tale recommended for children eight years of age and up. It’s the story of a First Nations father and his two young daughters living in the city, alienated from their cultural traditions. The girls are mourning the loss of their mother. Their father, overwhelmed with grief himself, isn’t able to help them. The grandfather steps in with the spirit horse which has appeared to him and together they help the family make their way back to the culture.
In between, there are lots of antics to keep the audience giggling and gasping; a high-speed chase, a villain, hiding a horse in a high-rise apartment, running away, and a magical lake. A return to Indigenous cultural tradition teaches the children that our loved ones are always with us, even after they leave this reality.
All three actors, Cameron Johnston, Lisa Nasson, and Brianne Tucker are Indigenous. They’re highly skilled performers, a definite requirement because they’re called upon to play some 60 characters including the horse, a dog and a helicopter. Live music by composer and musician Anne Lederman helps to set the mood for the incredible adventures of the two girls as they make their way back to home and healing.
There have been three Ontario tours of this Roseneath Theatre production, including a Northern Ontario tour.