Cottagers and Indians

A Thoughtful Comedy

Reviewed by Vicki Stokes

EXTENDED TO AUGUST 11.

Manoomin is what most people call wild rice, but it isn’t technically rice. It’s a grain. Cottagers and Indians addresses other labels as well, such as Indian, Indigenous, Aboriginal, white person, colonial and settler. Once you separate the manoomin from the chaff, the pigment-deprived cottager and the manoomin-growing Anishinaabe are just people, trying to navigate their way through life. With the use of humour (sometimes biting, sometimes fun), Cottagers & Indians now on the Harvest Stage at the Blyth Festival, explores conflicting viewpoints regarding the use of the public waterways in cottage country.

Maureen Poole is an HR professional and a Starling Lake cottager who enjoys her wine and barbecues, and has spent numerous summer holidays swimming and boating with her family. Arthur Copper, whose ancestors lived off the land and waterways long before summer homes, Tim Hortons, and golf courses, is just trying to live and survive as best he can. He remembers and embraces the traditional ways, while accepting modernization when it comes to trucking and cultivating his nutritious manoomin. He views the planting of his manoomin as the beginning of a whole ecosystem, something that had been destroyed by locks and canals in the past. Maureen views the wild rice as bad for property values and a menace to safety. It damages boats, endangers swimmers, and Arthur’s airboat is loud and disruptive. Sometimes Arthur and Maureen explain their viewpoints individually, and sometimes they speak to each other. They both make admissions. They learn things about one another that humanize them. There is plenty of great dialogue to digest.

The set features bold, traditional artwork by Moses Lunham of the Kettle and Stony Point First Nation. The outdoor Harvest Stage is perfect for the set of the exterior cottage on a lake. I attended this performance before the official opening, and the weather was perfect, and despite unforeseen circumstances that lead to a little stress behind the scenes, everything really came together beautifully.

The unflappable Kelly McIntosh returns to the Blyth Festival as Maureen Poole, a woman who could be one of your white urban friends, someone who works hard and means well. James Dallas Smith, who also serves as sound designer, is Arthur Copper, quick with his wit, sarcasm and wisdom. The two actors embrace each other warmly after the performance; they have created the illusion of  adversarial roles extremely well.

Playwright Drew Hayden Taylor previously had a popular show on stage at the Blyth Festival: The Berlin Blues. German investors want to create a huge Indian-themed amusement park on a First Nation. Like this production, there was plenty of humour and also a message for the audience to ponder.

For those left wanting an indepth and serious exploration of wild rice cultivation and the waterways, there is a CBC documentary, also called Cottagers and Indians. What you will take away from the more lighthearted play is the importance of listening and trying to understand both sides. And setting our own perspectives aside, perhaps we should ask what is best for the environment? We can’t go back in time. People have worked hard, bought land, built cottages and docks, and purchased boats. Other people work hard and struggle for survival, trying to restore something that has almost been lost. So how do we move forward in the best way? How can we help each other and the environment as well? As for me, I’ve built up a hearty appetite for some wild rice, or should I say, manoomin.

Cottagers & Indians continues until August 6 at the Blyth Festival Harvest Stage, Blyth Ontario. Call 1-877-862-5984 or go to www.blythfestival.com for tickets.

Photo: James Dallas Smith as Arthur Copper. Photo by Terry Manzo.

Cottagers & Indians
By Drew Hayden Taylor
Directed by Deneh’Cho Thompson
Performed by James Dallas Smith, Kelly McIntosh
Produced by Blyth Festival, Blyth
July 21 to August 6, 2022 *Note: Extended to August 11.
Reviewed by Vicki Stokes

NEWSLETTER

Sign up here if you would like to receive notice when news, reviews, and musings are posted. You can unsubscribe at any time.