Saskatoon theatre returns with Indigenous play
- Julia Peterson | October 29, 2021
Saskatoon’s Persephone Theatre is opening its 2021/22 season with a performance of Cottagers and Indians, a play about environmentalism, consumerism and Indigenous land rights.
The story’s themes may be wide-ranging, but it features only two characters - Arthur Copper, an Indigenous man working to repopulate lakes in southern Ontario with wild rice, and Maureen Poole, a white cottager who is upset that the rice is interfering with her lake activities and bringing down her property values.
The play was inspired by the documentary of the same name. Both are by Drew Hayden Taylor, a playwright, author, filmmaker and columnist from the Curve Lake First Nation.
Jeremy Proulx, who plays Arthur, said he was particularly excited to be bringing this play to the stage after a long COVID-imposed hiatus.
“Theatre has been on this great pause for the past year and a half, two years,” he said. “So I know this was quite special for Persephone because they hadn’t done anything in almost two years.
“So the fact that they opened their season, coming back after two years, with an Indigenous play by an Indigenous playwright, I thought it was really wonderful for them to do.”
Lisa Bayliss, who plays Maureen, described the play as “a meeting of two people who come from vastly different backgrounds and cultures.”
“Both characters start off in quite an extreme place in terms of how they’re presented in the play - almost to the point of caricature,” she said. “And then as the play progresses and they continue to debate and argue and try to explain their individual positions, they start to become more human. …
“And it’s wonderful because by the end, although they’ve seen each other as human beings, the debate continues - so there’s no fairy tale ending here.”
For his part, Proulx is excited to be working on a play that addresses issues of reconciliation, colonization and Indigenous land rights head-on.
“It’s this whole discussion between settler and Indigenous communities in terms of how do we get around this issue, move forward and coexist on this land we call Canada?” he said.
But he says the play - while fundamentally issue-driven - is not didactic.
“The play is told lightly, through comedy, which I find really disarms a lot of people,” he said. “So you can think through a lot of really difficult issues with humour.”
And Bayliss says early audiences have been enjoying the show, which runs until November 13th.
“The Persephone audiences have been extremely receptive,” she said. “They’re laughing and they’re crying and they’re right there with us all the way.”