DEEP IN­SIGHT AT HEART OF THEATRE CAL­GARY’S WORLD PRE­MIERE

Calgary Herald - - YOU - LOUIS B. HOB­SON

The mother in Tara Bea­gan’s play Hon­our Beat al­ways told her two daugh­ters that home is wher­ever the three of them are to­gether.

But home is now a small, ster­ile, pal­lia­tive care room in a Toronto hospi­tal. Mom (PaulaJean Pru­dat) is in a coma and near death.

Old­est daugh­ter Anna-Rae (Monique Mo­jica) has flown in from a spir­i­tual re­treat in Sun­dance hours af­ter the ar­rival of the younger daugh­ter, Rae-Anna (Tracey Nepinak), who came from Van­cou­ver.

Within min­utes of the sis­ters’ re­union they be­gin ar­gu­ing about why Mom was ever moved to Toronto, why she was moved to a hospice and about each other’s life­styles. Through the ar­gu­ment, the au­di­ence learns, as Rae-Anna even­tu­ally con­cludes, these women may love each other but that doesn’t mean they ac­tu­ally like each other.

It is brit­tle, in­sight­ful dis­tinc­tions like this that help give Bea­gan’s play a universal ap­peal de­spite its spe­cific In­dige­nous roots. It’s easy to see one­self in these sib­lings re­gard­less of race, cul­ture or gen­der and in the is­sues that arise as the story pro­gresses in its world pre­miere at Theatre Cal­gary.

Mom grew up in the Kam­loops Res­i­den­tial School where she met and lost Anna-Rae’s father. Rae-Anna’s father died in a car ac­ci­dent that al­most took Mom’s life as well.

Anna-Rae clings to the spir­i­tu­al­ity of her First Na­tions cul­ture which she feels com­pletes and en­riches her life. She is more free-spir­ited and open as is re­flected in her loose-fit­ting ap­parel. Mo­jica gives Anna-Rae

flow­ing, lilt­ing speech pat­terns that com­ple­ment her looks and de­meanour.

On the flip side, Rae-Anna has tried to adapt to western cul­ture and Nepinak por­trays that con­form­ity with more rigid at­ti­tudes and skit­tish man­ner­isms. She has turned to mar­i­juana to calm her­self. Where Mo­jica’s laugh­ter and anger seem so nat­u­ral and un­hin­dered, Nepinak’s emo­tions feel more forced and re­strained.

It must be a dream for di­rec­tors and ac­tors to work with Bea­gan’s script be­cause she doesn’t just write di­a­logue. Bea­gan also writes im­ages. The won­der­ful the­atri­cal­ity of Hon­our Beat is in­te­gral to its struc­ture and di­rec­tor Michelle Thrush has ex­ploited it beau­ti­fully, en­rich­ing the di­a­logue and story as was Bea­gan’s in­tent.

Though Mom is in her 80s and in a coma, Bea­gan has writ­ten the role for a young ac­tress be­cause Mom’s spirit is more alive at this mo­ment than ever be­fore. She knows she is dy­ing so all her cares and earthly suf­fer­ing is now be­hind her. She is eager to cross over. All she needs is for her daugh­ters to be at her side.

Pru­dat as Mom is a marvel; danc­ing, singing and jump­ing about the stage seem­ingly de­fy­ing grav­ity at times.

Bea­gan has struc­tured the play so that Anna-Rae and Mom’s shared spir­i­tu­al­ity al­lows them to com­mu­ni­cate fully. They em­brace each other, laugh with each other and un­bur­den their souls to­gether. When Rae-Anna speaks to Mom, she al­ways looks di­rectly at the pil­low where Mom’s head is al­though the spirit of Mom is be­side her, be­hind her or sit­ting on the arm of her chair.

The fourth char­ac­ter in the play is Span­ish (Bernard Starlight), a nurse prac­ti­tioner whom Mom has cho­sen to be her fi­nal care­giver. It’s ob­vi­ous that An­naRae has a crush on him and that Rae-Anna dis­ap­proves.

Starlight is a big man so when Anna-Rae de­scribes him as be­ing cute it seems jar­ring un­til you watch him as Anna-Rae does and see how gen­tle, sweet, unas­sum­ing and car­ing he is. The child inside the man shines through, giv­ing Mom and the au­di­ence hope that Anna-Rae will fi­nally find a soul­mate.

An­other the­atri­cal de­vice that Bea­gan has wo­ven into Hon­our Beat is to have two scenes play out si­mul­ta­ne­ously. When RaeAnna goes out­side to smoke pot and Span­ish fol­lows, they talk while Anna-Rae and Mom con­verse. It’s tricky stuff to say the least, but it’s also dra­matic.

Andy Moro’s set and pro­jec­tion de­signs add depth to Hon­our Beat. The hospi­tal room sits in the cen­tre of Theatre Cal­gary’s large stage with por­tions of the hospi­tal on both sides. The room needs to be small and claus­tro­pho­bic, but all that other space is not wasted. When Mom talks about the res­i­den­tial school, im­ages of chil­dren play­ing or run­ning down the halls fill the walls of the build­ing and there are im­ages of the car ac­ci­dent and a fire at the school as Mom re­calls them.

The most cre­ative use of pro­jec­tions oc­curs when Rae-Anna shows her sis­ter a cell­phone video she made with their mother ear­lier that year. The hospi­tal room be­comes a tea shop where the video was shot. Si­mul­ta­ne­ously we get to see the past and the present.

The fi­nal up­lift­ing, spir­i­tual mo­ments of Hon­our Beat will linger with you long af­ter you’ve left the Max Bell Theatre. With my Ro­man Catholic up­bring­ing, I’ve seen many im­ages of an­gels, but watch­ing Pru­dat adorned in cer­e­mo­nial robes re­turn­ing to a pris­tine for­est is one of the most beau­ti­ful.

Hon­our Beat is still in its early stages. The first act needs edit­ing and some of the di­a­logue is too ob­vi­ous and repet­i­tive. There needs to be more ten­sion be­tween the sis­ters and the res­o­lu­tion of their an­i­mos­ity can­not be so easy, but these are mi­nor flaws com­pared to the rich­ness of story it­self and the beau­ti­ful sen­ti­ments at the heart of the play.

BRIAN HARDER

Theatre Cal­gary’s Hon­our Beat, from left: Paula-Jean Pru­dat (Mom), Monique Mo­jica (Anna-Rae), and Tracey Nepinak (Rae-Anna).

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