Landing lightly on a shameful chapter in our history: Camping, a Fringe review

By Liz Nicholls,

Camping (Vanta Group Outdoor Stage)

Breathing life into our history onstage is the raison d’être of MAA and PAA Theatre. This little 35-minute play, by David Cheoros and his 10-year-old daughter Sophia Cheoros, alights on a shameful chapter in the Canadian story, the internment of Eastern Europeans as enemy aliens during World War I.

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How to shed light in a kids’ play on the bad exclusionary behaviour of a country that talks a good game about international kindness? In Camping, team Cheoros imagines a chance encounter in a Banff Park woods between a seven-year-old in 2021 and a Ukrainian man in 1916, imprisoned by the War Measures Act.

Nikki (Gabby Bernard) has her grievances. In an act of egregious unfairness her mom has taken her camping (a word she delivers like with eight or so grudging syllables) when the world should know that Nikki had her heart set on going to her BFF’s birthday party in town.

Nick (Matt Mihiliewicz) isn’t so keen on camping either, needless to say, since he’s been a starving prisoner for a year in a hard labour camp. He’s amazed that anyone who has access to an apartment that’s warm, dry, and safe in a city would choose to be spend time in a tent.

Both of them are surprised by the difference a century can make. Nikki is shocked that he’s cutting down a tree in a national park. “I only know how to plant trees,” she says. It’s a skill he’s never run across.

In the course of their encounter, as they pass the time, Nikki learns a little something about hardship, about dreams of a better life in a new country that didn’t come true. “Nobody invited him to the party,” she concludes, exploring the concept of the outsider in her own terms.

It’s simple; it lands lightly, even humorously; it’s a little eye-opener. The prisoner treats the kid kindly. And the actors are charming.   

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