Written August 13, 2017
It isn’t easy to talk about the past, especially about events that are painful to all involved. It can be even more difficult to look at it with laughter and light, turning tragedy into a comedy that can reach all people. However, Ojibway playwright Drew Hayden Taylor has done exactly that with “Only Drunks and Children Tell the Truth”.
One in a trilogy of plays about a young Indigenous woman finding her roots, it looks at Janice (“Grace” as she was originally named, played by Roseanne Supernault) and her need to return to her birth family, or at least, their need for her. Carried away from them as an infant in the big “scoop up,” or the taking of native children for adoption in white society, she was raised by a white family to become a successful lawyer in Toronto. However, her birth family is still on the reserve in Otter Lake, and they want her to come back for her mother’s funeral. Things start on a difficult footing as they break into her apartment while looking for her, spend the night, then convince her to go back to say her final good-bye. She and her sister Barb (Joelle Peters) end up having a drunken bonding session which results in a new closeness (and severe hangovers).
“This is a remount of a production we did with Western Canada Theatre in Kamloops, BC, back in May,” said Joelle Peters who plays Barb. “The show is really funny, and it’s heartwarming, and it feels really good to be able to bring it back to the stage after having some time away. I think people are really going to enjoy it – I think they’re going to shed a tear, whether they’re laughing or feeling another deeper emotion. It’s got a lot of heart.
“It revolves around the life of Janice Worth who was adopted out in the 1960s as part of the ‘scoop’, which is still affecting people today. It’s still incredibly real. My character Barb, her boyfriend Rodney (Aren Okemaysim) and his older brother Tonto (Taran Kootenhayoo) come to bring her back to say good-bye to her mother after her passing. It’s about getting to know each other after thirty years of separation, about becoming family and who you truly are.”
While the subject could be very hard to watch, harder still to accept and assimilate, it is handled delicately and with a wonderful lightness that makes you want to listen, to pay attention, to get to know these characters and make them part of your life. You find yourself laughing with them, sharing their pain and discomfort, becoming part of their family and being happy you are there.
“I’ve stepped into the play to pick up a position where someone else had left,” said Roseanne Supernault, who plays Janice/Grace. “It’s a major learning curve and one of the most challenging processes I’ve had as an actor. I think it makes me a better craftsperson. Coming in as the lead in a play when I’m completely new is pretty incredible, and my cast mates are so amazing. They’ve been very welcoming to me from the moment I got here. Usually, you have about three or four weeks to prepare and mount a play ready for the stage – I’ve been here for two days. I have a lot in common with my character – she’s a lawyer and I’m very analytical, I have a process and do things by the book, but that process has just been completely turned around. I’ve had to let go of my own personal stuff in order to let this team move forward in their story.”
And move forward they do. While the men tend to keep the comedy alive, it is the women who bring the story out, who truly make it happen. We find ourselves rooting for Janice/Grace all the way, and join in her triumph of realization as she finally gets up the courage to face who she is.
“Only Drunks and Children Tell the Truth” runs from August 11 – 26, 2017, at the Firehall Theatre, 185 South Street, Gananoque. Running time for the play is 2 hours including intermission. Suggested for all ages. Show times are Tuesday 7:30, Wednesday through Saturday 8:00 pm, with matinees on Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 2:30 pm (starting the Sunday after opening night). Tickets are $35 for adults, $33 for seniors age 65+, <30 Club $20. HST is applicable to all ticket prices. For more information, please go to www.1000islandsplayhouse.com or contact the box office at 613-382-7020.