Living between cultures, with a legacy of secrets: Feast, a Fringe review

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

Feast (Old Strathcona Performing Arts Centre)

In Feast, you will see an Indigenous man in a T-shirt that says “You Are Living On Stolen Land” dancing gamely with a settler woman to ABBA’s The Winner Takes It All.

As you can gather, there’s a certain satirical sense of humour at work in Feast, brought to the Fringe by the puckishly named Indigenized Indigenous Theatre. Cultural juxtapositions and tensions are everywhere in this latest from Josh Languedoc (Rocko & Nakota), the multi-faceted Anishinaabe actor/playwright who’s the Fringe’s new director of Indigenous strategic planning.

At the centre of Feast are two lovers (Sheldon Stockdale and Marissa Gell), who fall in love across the Indigenous/settler divide. Each is haunted by voices, a dark legacy of secrets from their very different pasts. Is their relationship on a collision course?

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The roar that Gabe that carries in his head is his uncle’s voice, and reverberates from a mysterious coming-of-age incident with this formidable, imperious masculine figure in the woods. The uncle commands the boy to be a man. “Cmon boy, stand strong!.” “Cmon boy, walk faster!” “You have to learn to fight!” Gabe is struggling to write the story of that night.

Gabe’s unstable high-maintenance actor settler girlfriend Jocelyn (Marissa Gell) still hears the voice of a former lover in her ear. It’s a barrage of abusive remarks from the creepy and toxic director who played a bit part in shattering her self-esteem. “I’m not worthy to be loved,” she says. “All I ever do is push people away.”

On this first viewing — Feast is getting its first public audiences at the Fringe — the real heart of the play, to me, isn’t the relationship of the man and woman, except to know that it’s disintegrating. Jocelyn’s anxieties (theatre freelancing and an overbearing mother) are less gripping than the relationship between the Indigenous boy and the man he becomes, the spirit world Gabe once shared and the “real world” where people grow up and leave their roots behind.

The boy plays in a colourful, magical world co-habited by four companions, the animals of the Anishinaabe medicine wheel, who talk to him, run with him, protect him. And on a graceful set of stylized pillars — totems? — designed by Sarah Karpyshin, that world is rich,  animated, and individualized, by Rebecca Sadowski’s choreography, a weave of traditional Indigenous and contemporary movement motifs. The dancers — Emily Berard, Sydney Williams, Demaris Moon Walker, Kristin Unrah — are eloquent, both in speech and movement.

The man has arrived in adulthood trailing vestiges, and hearing echoes, of a boyhood spent more vividly among traditional Indigenous spirits. And the play leans into the question of whether (and how) that spirit world from his past can live in the adult still. That’s more fascinating, and more theatrically realized, I think, than the ups and of downs of Gabe’s romance with a needy actor.

But, hey, maybe that’s the point. Languedoc is a fluid writer of breezy dialogue; his muse tends to the comic. With this new play, the playwright is applying that dexterity to exploring the tensions of living bi-culturally, of hearing Indigenous voices from an Indigenous past filter into a present that tries in every way to dim that pulsing sound.

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