Graphic play real story of abo­rig­i­nal in­car­cer­a­tion

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT - By Kevin Prokosh

APREG­NANT abo­rig­i­nal woman who was born in prison con­tem­plates her de­press­ing fate as she pre­pares to also give birth to a daugh­ter while be­hind bars.

Jas­mine, the prison-garbed cen­tral fig­ure in the gritty comic drama Jail Baby, is re­signed to re­peat­ing fam­ily his­tory: “Born to be in prison. Born a pris­oner. I’m just ful­fill­ing my des­tiny. This is what my mom was wear­ing when I was born. I’m my mom 18 years later.”

Jail Baby, the Sarasvàti Pro­duc­tions pre­mière penned by artis­tic di­rec­tor Hope McIn­tyre and Cairn Moore, seeks to pro­vide con­text for the over­rep­re­sen­ta­tion of abo­rig­i­nal women in the Cana­dian cor­rec­tions sys­tem. McIn­tye and Moore, as well as Nan Fewchuk and Marsha Knight, went into western Cana­dian pris­ons to ques­tion abo­rig­i­nal women about their sur­pris­ing sta­tus as the fastest grow­ing of­fender pop­u­la­tion.

What they found and what makes up the spine of the thought-pro­vok­ing Jail Baby is a dispir­it­ing short life story of Jas­mine, who never had a chance to es­cape a soul-sap­ping cy­cle of de­hu­man­iza­tion: ne­glect, abuse, poverty, dis­crim­i­na­tion, vi­o­lence and ad­dic­tions. The ef­fect in re­cent years has been to fast-track in­dige­nous women into ju­ve­nile and adult de­ten­tion and more Jas­mine mother-daugh­ter loops. They are the most marginal­ized of the marginal­ized.

Jail Baby suc­ceeds graph­i­cally in pre­sent­ing the real story as to why abo­rig­i­nal women are nine times as likely to be in­car­cer­ated in their life­time as any other women. From the time Jas­mine (played by Me­lanie Dean) emerges at birth onto the con­crete Sarasvàti Pro­duc­tions To May 26, at U of W’s Asper Cen­tre for Theatre and Film

Tick­ets: $18, $12 for stu­dents and se­niors

½ out of five prison floor, she is more or less left to fend for her­self, mother­ing her mother, used as do­mes­tic help in foster homes, as a sex­ual play­thing by the men in her house be­fore drift­ing into prostitution out of eco­nomic ne­ces­sity.

In­ter­sect­ing Jas­mine’s life is Pa­tri­cia (Daina Leitold), a woman dev­as­tated to learn that her fa­ther was mur­dered by two hook­ers. The killer’s ac­com­plice was Jas­mine and the two meet for an emo­tional me­di­a­tion ses­sion. Pa­tri­cia — a standup char­ac­ter for the gen­eral pub­lic — be­gins de­mand­ing ret­ri­bu­tion for her loss but even­tu­ally soft­ens when she comes face to face with Jas­mine.

To lighten the heavy load of so­cial ills on dis­play in Jail Baby, McIn­tyre and Moore in­ter­sperse comedic scenes that comment on the more sober ac­tion. They are in­tro­duced by a ring­mas­ter (Shan­non Guile) who presents cir­cus acts in­volv­ing the im­pris­oned women. “Come closer, if you dare,” she says. “You’ll be amazed, you’ll be hor­ri­fied, You’ll be en­ter­tained be­yond de­spair.”

That’s an ac­cu­rate as­sess­ment of Jail Baby. The cru­el­ties that Jas­mine en­dures come across as all too au­then­tic even if the play­wrights did not raise the name of Ash­ley Smith, a teenager who com­mit­ted sui­cide in jail in 2007, or play out the seg­re­ga­tion cell birth of Julie Bilotta in Ot­tawa last year.

The par­ody scenes are more hit and miss. Lives of the Poor and Marginal­ized hits the comedic mark while The Kan­ga­roo Court scene, with guest lawyer Saul Sim­monds play­ing the judge, goes on too long for too lit­tle im­pact.

Jail Baby is raw and not par­tic­u­larly sub­tle, sac­ri­fic­ing art­ful­ness to make its im­por­tant point as pow­er­fully as it can

Di­rec­tor Ann Hodges deftly han­dles the quick scene cuts while main- tain­ing an ap­peal­ing pace and clar­ity, al­though some of the jumps from the se­ri­ous to the wacky are wrench­ing. The per­for­mances are uni­formly good but stand­outs are Tracey Nepinak in nu­mer­ous roles, Ash­ley Chartrand as young Jas­mine and Me­lanie Dean as adult Jas­mine.

The play­wrights raise a lot of cru­cial ques­tions and won­der where the an­swers will come from in the ab­sence of any po­lit­i­cal will in Ot­tawa to help so­ci­ety’s marginal­ized with any­thing more than a jail cell. The ring­leader de­light­fully de­clares, “And now that we are spend­ing mil­lions of dollars on new pris­ons and in­creased se­cu­rity, there won’t be any­thing left over for friv­o­lous things like: ed­u­ca­tion, job train­ing and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion.”

BORIS MINKEVICH / WIN­NIPEG FREE PRESS

Tracey Nepinak as Char in a scene from Sarasvàti Pro­duc­tions’ Jail Baby.

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