Oppression’s aesthetic, concentrated with artistic intention and filtered through page or stage, produces powerful immersive realities that far exceed recommended doses inscribed on media pill bottles. When the Empire writes back, assertions of autonomous identity and scathing rejections of conventional untruths subvert and transmute modes of performance and expression. Violently grafted tongues manipulate and elevate the language of the colonizer, shaping arguments and narratives of exceeding intensity, beauty and resistance. An invitation is extended to the audience, to sight through a magnified scope and interrogate apex cultural predators with a fidelity and resonance that far exceeds the perspectives offered by customary, urbane lenses. Drama’s potential as pinnacle medium of truth is experienced in a powerful, unsettling exchange.
On opening night of the 39th annual Rhubarb Festival, during the first scene of Yolanda Bonnell’s White Girls In Moccasins, sirens wailed through the walls of Buddies In Bad Times theatre. This intrusive urban noisebleed added layers of dissonant harmonies to a hand drum song describing “a place where grass used to grow”. It seemed an appropriate counterpoint to the urgent narrative developing on the stage.
White Girls In Moccasins follows a young Indigenous woman and her reified white doppleganger as they play the repeating game through stages of trauma and painful self-discovery. Childhood games of make-believe evolve to bouts of pill-popping pattycake. Jarringly beautiful original songs and familiar musical themes from Wheel of Fortune and The Little Mermaid entwine authentic voices with displaced cultural references.
Objective facets of contemporary Canadian Indigeneity arise; snakes of abuse that coil round young Indigenous women, the violent toxicity of relationships with white men and women, institutional rejection and cultural commodification and appropriation. However, it is the subjective modes of ongoing colonization that are the true focus of this compelling piece. The internal disneyfication and white-washing-over of self-identity that result from existing within and outside of dominant colonial culture are given physical form by the insidious mimicry of the everpresent white girl. Woven throughout the narrative is an underlying uncertainty; who is copying who; who is it that embodies a vessel for an other culture? How does one disentangle themselves from twisting paths that lead away from knowledge, understanding and love of a distinct self?
While certainly tackling dark and challenging subjects, White Girls In Moccasins also evokes quirky laughter as well as painful empathy and interrogation of self and culture. Riveting performances and a gripping narrative hold the audience rapt from beginning to end. This play further enriches the cannon of Canadian Indigenous theatre and is a must see for those already engaged with the genre. For newcomers, it is a powerful point of initiation to the frontiers of cross-cultural communication. I wholeheartedly recommend that you create an opportunity to witness and engage with this enthralling production.