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Play gives tragedy a comic makeover

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Julie Adam, Birchbark Writer, Toronto







Page 8

"Hello. My name is Branda and I'm living with genocide," a woman announces into a mikereally a scrub brush-in the Genocide Support Group scene of The Scrubbing Project. Presented by Native Earth Performing Arts and Turtle Gals Performance Ensemble, The Scrubbing Project opened in mid-November at Toronto's Factory Theatre and had a three-week run.

The Scrubbing Project is hard to pin down. It gains its emotional power from short, alternating, sometimes overlapping, scenes played at break-neck speed. "Scrubbing" refers to the attempts of the Native characters to scrub themselves "white."

The play is an exceptionally well-constructed ensemble piece, a mad-cap collection of comedy skits, a vaudeville show that both exposes and uses to comic effect the racist stereotypes of popular culture, a sentimental tearjerker about victims of racism, a tragic story of heroic survival; a multimedia extravaganza about angels and genocide, and a musical about three mixed-race women on a quest for understanding. All those things were packed into a theatrical event that seemed to frustrate some audience members and awe others.

If you like your stories told from beginning through middle to end, with the loose ends nicely tied up, or if you believe that tragic topics must be handled in serious tones, this is not the play for you.

The Scrubbing Project is high-wire theatre that is unafraid to mix genres and dares to laugh in the face of genocide, atrocities committed against Aboriginals in the Americas, the Holocaust, or any number of horrors visited upon "outsiders" by "insiders" over the centuries.

The Scrubbing Project is the touching, witty creation of Turtle Gals Ensemble, consisting of writers/performers Monique Mojica (of the Kuna and Rappahannock peoples), Jani Lauzon (a Metis actress, musician and puppeteer) and Michelle St. John (of Wampanog, Carib and Jewish background).

With references to popular culture, mythology and religion, history and personal sagas, the three women cleverly weave seemingly disjointed scenes into an evening of original and daring entertainment. The storyweaving, as director Muriel Miguel describes it, "entwine[s] stories and fragments of stories with words, music, song, film, dance and movement, thereby creating a production that is multi-layered and complex, an emotional, cultural and political tapestry."

Miguel, of the Kuna and Rappahannock tribes, is a founding member and artistic director of Spiderwoman Theater, North America's longest-running, Native American, feminist theatre group, and she is a veteran of both Native and non-Native North American theatres.

Besides their immense creative energy, what is most impressive about the Turtle Gals is their Trickster's ability to embody several characters-celestial and earth-bound-and to switch emotions mid-sentence, even mid-word.

The grand finale has them singing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" to powwow rhythms, thus weaving together Hollywood-the dream factory our collective imaginations feed upon-and Aboriginal tradition in a musical number that captures the satirical, yet uplifting, spirit of The Scrubbing Project.

The play is enhanced by the live piano-playing of Lona Davies, with additional comic relief provided by four biblical "archangels" in four videos projected onto a screen: Lawrence Bayne as Michael; Robert Cape Purcell Byrd as Uriel; Oswaldo DeLeon Kantule as Gabriel; and Raphael aka Sulup Ebiya as Raphael.

The four reinterpret their original roles in the Bible, and each deals with some of the themes in the main action, sometimes hilariously and sometimes seriously.

Year in review-August 2002

August is the month Ontario Birchbark gave you the results of the North American Indigenous Games, held in Winnipeg last summer. We told you that in 16 sports events involving 6,300 competitors, Ontario finished in fourth place with 138 medals.

Norval Morrisseau may not be painting much these days because of his age and frail health, but his lgacy of paintings never fails to attract admirers whenever an exhibit is mounted. We told you about the Kinsman Robinson Gallery's show of 50 acrylic works that Morrisseau completed between 1989 and 1997.

Wikwemikong is no stranger to theatre productions, and in our August issue we told you about an adaption of the Nanabush legend put on at the mission ruins there. The play that was based on the storytelling of artist Daphne Odjig cast the often naughty Nanabush in a sympathetic light.