Turning the Rez into an Amusement Park
Germans are fascinated with the Indigenous people of Canada. I learned this several years ago, when chatting with an acquaintance originally from Germany. He told me that he came to Canada as a child. A friendly immigration officer asked him what he wanted to do, now that he was in Canada. To the delight of all who could hear him, the ten year old boy answered, “Marry an Indian Princess”. He laughed when he told me, “Eventually, I did”.
The German obsession with Indigenous culture continues and Native playwright Drew Hayden Taylor has capitalized on it with his play, The Berlin Blues, now on stage at the Blyth Festival.
It’s a zany comedy about German investors showing up in the office of a First Nation economic developer. The Germans want to open a theme park – Ojibway World – on the Reserve. For an economic developer, it’s a dream come true: investment and employment. But it’s also crass cultural appropriation. The dilemma grows, with great hilarity.
Donalda, the economic developer, (Nyla Carpentier) goes along with the plans – it’s too big for her to reject. Rez Police Officer Andrew (James Dallas Smith) supports the German plan, as soon as he’s offered a job with a much higher salary in security at the amusement park. Even Trailer, a ne’er-do-well who lives in a beat-up trailer, (Jonathan Fisher) is won over when he is offered a job in entertainment. Only Angie, Andrew’s girlfriend (Nicole Joy-Fraser) is opposed to the German’s enterprise, outraged at the sell-out. The Germans, Birgit (Catherine Finch) and Reinhart (Tony Munch), get their way and construction on the theme park begins. In Act II, we learn the outcome of the park, but I won’t reveal it here for fear of spoiling it.
Joy-Fraser and Smith have a comedic discussion about Trailer in the opening. The two actors handle the repartee hilariously. We never know if they are referring to the person or the trailer. One or the other was never the same after he/it was hit by lightning.
Catherine Fitch, as the German investor, keeps the audience laughing with her harsh accent. She calls the theme park Ojibway World, but pronouncing the W as V.
Much of the humour comes from the descriptions of the theme park. There are bumper canoes, a medicine Ferris wheel and a giant laser beam dreamcatcher. Trailer is assigned to create Dances with Wolves The Musical for entertainment at the park. Fisher takes the character, Trailer, through various hilarious changes.
The dialogue in The Berlin Blues sounds very much like a TV sitcom. Quick quips and cutting comebacks are scattered throughout. Playwright Drew Hayden Taylor enjoys humour that pokes fun at life on the Rez in a gentle way.
My only concern with this production is the overuse of yelling. Too many characters seem too angry too often. Director Brad Fraser should dial back on the loud yelling, and allow the biting commentary to speak for itself. Sometimes the funny dialogue is lost in the loud shouting.
In the Playwright’s Notes in the program, Drew Hayden Taylor points out that many First Nation playwrights prefer to explore the darker side of the Aboriginal experience. But then he heard an elder say “For Native people, humour is the WD-40 of healing”. Taylor explains “To me, that said it all”. He writes funny plays to be part of the healing. This crazy comedy should help smooth the way to recovery.
The Berlin Blues continues at the Blyth Festival in repertoire until August 19. Call 519-523-9300 / 1-877-862-5984 or go to www.blythfestival.com for tickets.
Photo: Jonathan Fisher, Catherine Fitch, Tony Munch, and Nyla Carpentier in The Berlin Blues. Photo by Terry Manzo.
The Berlin Blues
By Drew Hayden Taylor
Directed by Brad Fraser
Performed by Nyla Carpentier, Jonathan Fisher, Catherine Fitch, Nicole Joy-Fraser, Tony Munch, James Dallas Smith.
Produced by The Blyth Festival
Blyth Festival Theatre, Blyth
July 7 to August 19, 2017
Reviewed by Mary Alderson