Honour Beat

Indigenous Story of Life and Death

Honour Beat, currently on the Spriet Stage at London’s Grand Theatre, shows some of the cultural differences between Indigenous people and settlers (and descendants) in Canada.  But more importantly, it shows how similar families are. Those who have held a vigil at the bedside of a dying parent will recognize themselves.

This story, by Indigenous playwright Tara Beagan, educates the audience about some of the atrocities Canada’s First Nations have faced.  Yet her message is clear: when it comes to families, mothers, or sibling relationships, we are all the same. 

Set in a busy Toronto hospital, the story unfolds as two half-sisters come to their dying mother’s bedside.  Younger daughter Rae-Anna is upset that her mother has been moved to Toronto rather than remaining in her B.C. home.  Older daughter Anna-Rae dashes in, just returning from Sundance, angry that her sister has panicked and put Mother in hospital.  While Rae-Anna is a devout Christian, married to an evangelical pastor, Anna-Rae finds peace in her spiritual Indigenous roots. 

The family’s past is a fascinating tale of perseverance. The mother’s mother was in a residential school where she was raped by a priest, and the mother was born in secret.  When she was a young teenager, she was in love with a fellow student at the residential school. Then she became pregnant, and her boyfriend suddenly disappeared. He was never heard from again.  She ran away with her daughter Anna-Rae.  Later she married and Rae-Anna was born.  But her father was a drunk and died in a car crash. Mother fought to keep both daughters and raise them.  Now, as she lies unresponsive in the hospital bed, the sisters talk about the difficult times.  

Suddenly, it becomes apparent that the daughters are older than their mother.  Mother, or at least her youthful spirit, gets up from her hospital bed and talks to her daughters.  She is young, playful and funny, all the good things they remember about her. 

Into the room comes a nurse, nicknamed Spanish, real name Hector.  He has looked after Mother in the past and shared good-natured teasing with her.  He wants to ensure her wishes are respected.  At the same time, he is romantically interested in the free-spirited Anna-Rae.

It’s a moving story, and anyone who has been with a dying parent will feel their heart get heavy.

Tai Grauman is excellent as the youthful, fun-loving mother. Just when the play feels slow and sad, she gets up from her hospital bed and garners some laughs.  She gives a very human performance despite being ghost-like. 

Andrea Menard as Anna-Rae and Tracey Nepinak as Rae-Anna give very convincing performances of sisters.  It is obvious that they are opposites, just as their names are opposites.  Credit goes to playwright Beagan for writing natural dialogue for the sisters. Nicholas Nahwegahbow as Nurse Hector adds to the comic relief when he calls the mother Old Battle-axe. Special mention goes to Lee Maracle who appears in a video as the older mother.  We see her on the hospital curtains as the sisters watch the video on their i-Phone.

The play’s conclusion reminds me very much of Michel Tremblay’s For the Pleasure of Seeing Her Again.  My own experience being with my mother at the end of her life is similar to both the French Canadian story and the Indigenous story. 

This very touching play is not to be missed.  Not only can it help in efforts to understand Indigenous culture, it is also a moment in family life, which crosses all cultures.

Honour Beat continues at the Grand Theatre, London until February 22.  Tickets are available at the Grand box office at 672-8800 or 1-800-265-1593 or visit www.grandtheatre.com

Photo:   Nicholas Nahwegahbow as Spanish and Andrea Menard as Anna-Rae.

Honour Beat
By Tara Beagan
Directed by Valerie Planche
Performed by Tai Grauman, Andrea Menard, Nicholas Nahwegahbow, Tracey Nepinak, and Lee Maracle (video).
Grand Theatre, London
February 7 to 22, 2020
Reviewed by Mary Alderson


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