Reservations

Note: This post doesn’t relate to music or the guitar.

On Tuesday March 15, the first-year class of CreComm students from Red River College went to Reservations, a play being produced by Theatre Projects Manitoba in The Rachel Browne Theatre. *SPOILER ALERT*. I’m going to roughly break down what my perception of the play was, and then how going to the play affected me.

Reservations was written by Steven Ratzlaff who also acted in the production. This was a two-act play that was made up of two individual, one-act plays with a common theme.

The first act, Pete’s Reserve, opened with a view of the open prairie sky and joined by the sounds of traditional throat singing. Three performers emerged from behind hanging screens, and the audience was soon introduced to an old farmer named Pete (played by writer Steven Ratzlaff), his indigenous wife Esther, and his daughter Anna who resembled both a middle aged woman and a screaming toddler. The setting of a farm-house kitchen was soon established.The play starts with Pete and Esther in their kitchen, being joined by Pete’s daughter Anna who is visiting her father in Alberta.

Anna is a struggling Toronto actress who blames her lack of income on her father instead of on her lack of acting talent. Pete, an Alberta grain farmer with land valued at over $3 Million, is deciding to give a large portion of his land back to a local indigenous tribe that used to live on the land he currently farms. The play escalates to Anna throwing a tantrum and getting mad at her dad for giving away a portion of her inheritance, even though he is still going to be giving her 80 acres of land.

To me, this act was showing a greed and sense of entitlement that I’ve seen in many people throughout my life. There are too many people, especially white people, who think that because their parents worked hard or did something that they’re somehow entitled to money or privilege. But when the idea of giving land back or making amends to the people who were here working and living before us, the idea is ridiculous and “won’t make a difference.” This act of the play left me confused, but the anger that I was feeling showed me that the writing had an effect on me.

From there we dove into the second act, where we see the writer play a different character, but with similar traits. Instead of an aging farmer, Ratzlaff portrays Mike, an accomplished professor from the University of Manitoba. He and his wife Jenny are in a battle with CFS regarding the three indigenous children that they foster. His wife struggles to see the viewpoint from an indigenous social worker Denise, who we later see as Dr. Denise Spence giving a speech at the university.

The play escalates to an intense confrontation between the enraged wife of the professor and Denise, who was the CFS worker that “took away” the professor’s children. Jenny interrupts Dr. Spence’s public speech with personal accusations and insults.

The second act wasn’t as engaging as the first, and the meaning of the play was blurred by the feeling that we were at a university lecture instead of a play. They constantly threw references of the German philosopher Heidegger, which could be seen going right over the heads of the audience. Many people in the audience felt a sense of “preachiness” and ignorance to what the characters were talking about. If you’re trying to inform me about indigenous issues, maybe leave the German philosophy for another day.

Overall, the message of Reservations seemed to be the on-going discussion of making amends to Canada’s indigenous populations and connecting our very separated cultures, but the showiness and blurry messaging took away from my overall impression. I understand that the play was meant to highlight a certain issue, but it felt like I was watching arguments between two sides of an issue, rather than an argument between characters. I think the parts written by Steven Ratzlaff meant to inform, and they did, but as a play it failed to entertain me. At the end of the day, the message was clear but the entertainment was vacant.

I’ve never attended a Manitoba play or a talkback session, so this was a very new experience to me. It was different than what I expected by how professional it seemed. Although it was definitely an amateur production, it felt like I was watching a small play in New York or something like that. It encouraged me to want to go to more plays, but I think I’m going to want a better idea of what a play is about before I spend money and three hours watching.

Attending this play affected me because it provoked some thoughts that I don’t think I’d be having if I wouldn’t have seen the play. It made me think a lot about my experience growing up on a family farm, and feeling a lot of pride for a piece of land that my ancestors didn’t really have the rights to. It made me feel uneasy, but also happy to see that topics like this are being brought to the public in different mediums than journalism.

Attending the talkback was…interesting. It was informative to see the full experience of a play and talkback, but a combination of the writer’s quiet attitude mixed with long-winded audience questions, the talkback felt awkward. Many people were telling the writer how he wrote the play, rather than asking for reasons on why he chose certain elements.

I enjoyed attending the play, despite my initial hesitation. Part of my reluctance to go to the play was my own ignorance on the subject, but I think that’s part of the reason why Ratzlaff could have chosen to write such a play. The play had an important message, but could have been conveyed in a better way without the philosophy lecture.

 

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