Drew Hayden Taylor’s latest stage production God and the Indian explores the repercussions residential schools have inflicted upon the individuals who were forced to attend the state and church run schools. The story focuses on “Johnny Indian” (Tantoo Cardinal) who, by sheer chance, sees the man responsible for her abuse as a child, Assistant Bishop George King (Michael Kopsa). “Johnny” follows the Bishop to his office and slowly begins to reveal how the abuse she suffered changed her life forever. The Bishop, however, is adamant that he did no such thing and attempts to convince Johnny that she has the wrong person. Taylor’s story moves back and forth between “did he or didn’t he?” without revealing the truth until the very end… and even then, it could still be up to the viewer’s interpretation.
God and the Indian is a lengthy play and, given the topic, that seems understandable. However, the show clocks in at over 2 hours (plus an intermission) and the aforementioned “did he or didn’t he?“ story starts to become strenuous for the viewer. We have become invested in the characters and want to witness some semblance of resolution for “Johnny”. But Taylor appears to be more interested in drawing out the conversation between the characters in what seems like an effort to keep the focus on the negative aspect of her experience, despite the fact that “Johnny” is at the Bishop’s office to put an end to the whole ordeal.
Tantoo Cardinal, known for roles in North of 60, Black Robe and Dances with Wolves, is effortless in her performance as “Johnny Indian” and therefore wonderful to watch. She manages to emanate vulnerability even when the role is requiring her to be aggressive and argumentative. Michael Kopsa, talented in his own right, is faced with the difficult task of showcasing his skills while playing a rather unlikeable character. While the viewer understands that the Bishop is being accused of something he contends to be untrue, and takes that into consideration. His overall demeanour is off-putting and unpleasant. That said, the duo work well together and create a realistic atmosphere that is uncomfortable but necessary for “Johnny’s” healing.
The Firehall Arts Centre is the lucky host of the Taylor’s current production. Situated next to the Police Museum on Cordova Street, the Firehall Arts Centre is a charming, intimate theatre. The venue has very reasonable beverage pricing (yay, cheap bailey’s on ice!) and extremely friendly employees from the box office all the way to the ushers. The adorable outdoor patio is a great place to enjoy a treat or drink during intermission.
An added bonus to attending the opening night of God and the Indian was seeing Telus donate $20,000 to the Firehall Arts Centre to specifically fund the Aboriginal Youth Dance Mentorship Program. This program will pair an Aboriginal mentor with an Aboriginal youth member in order to facilitate guidance and support as the youth member enters the world of performing arts – a much needed and worthwhile investment in the future of Aboriginal performing arts in Vancouver.
God and the Indian is playing now until April 20th (matinee performances also available) at the Firehall Arts Centre at 280 East Cordova Street.