Can one Holy Grail of a Bingo Game in Toronto be the answer to the dreams of seven women living on a reserve?
Tomson Highway’s play, The Rez Sisters, asks that question as it sends seven women on a journey to seek out the Bingo Game to beat all Bingo Games.
Gwaandak Theatre reads the two-act play tonight, Wednesday, July 14, in the last of its Aboriginal playwrights-infused Summer Reading Series.
What’s the play about? In the words of Pat St. Germain, in her review of the Winnipeg production, “Each of the women of the Wasaychigan Reserve believes winning the giant Bingo jackpot will bring her heart’s desire.
“For terminally ill mother-of-14 Marie-Adele Starblanket, it’s an earthly paradise. Annie Cook wants to immerse herself in country-rock music, while handywoman Pelajia Patchnose wants to pave the reserve roads. Former big-city secretary Philomena Moosetail yearns for a bathroom throne fit for a queen, and tough-cookie Emily Dictionary wants love and family.”
“They don’t all get what they want,” Germain says, “but by the end of this moving, often provocative and laugh-out-loud funny play, they get what they really need.”
In the Gwaandak Theatre production, director Mary Sloan found she loved these characters: “They are honest, sometimes nasty to each other, sometimes kind. The play itself is funny and tragic, but it embodies different aspects of women.”
Sloan recognizes these women, not only because she herself used to live on a reserve in Manitoba, but because she sees the very unique and human qualities that author, Tomson Highway, was able to give these seven portraits.
How did a male playwright create what Patti Flather and others have already called the seven greatest roles for women in theatre? Sloan tries to explain: “I know these women. They’re every woman. Tomson Highway has a real good eye — he must have been raised with great women, observing people well — maybe he sat around a lot and just listened to women speak.
“He gets himself out of the way and lets the women speak.”
She laughs, “Sometimes you can see things more truthfully from the outside.”
Sloan also directed the first of the reading series, Flather’s and Linklater’s Sixty Below, and enjoyed it so much she’s glad she’s back for the third installment of the series. “I liked working with people I’d never met before. I’d seen them perform in other venues, but never worked with them personally until now.”
Sloan brings to the play her abilities with physical theatre and another outsider’s point of view. “I’m a sister, but not a Rez sister.” She also tries to bring a sense of fun and adventure to rehearsals.
Delighted by the casting calls, and the attendance of the first readings, Sloan hopes these readings get people out who’ve not experienced theatre before.
“It’s a way of expression that some people might not have thought of before. I hope it gets people hooked on theatre.”
The Rez Sisters certainly uses unique “ways of expression” that tinker with reality. Playwright Tomson Highway, a Cree Canadian writer, has inserted a trickster that goes along with these women on their journey. Sloan calls him “not kindly, a little malevolent.”
In the introduction to the play, Highway describes Nanabush, the trickster figure, as a “pivotal and important figure in the Native world as Christ is in the realm of Christian mythology”.
His appearances in moments of joy and tragedy in the play may imply the trickster is an apathetic deity, neither good nor bad.
But then he’s a trickster and the Bingo Game as the “wheel of fortune” is never one to grant you what you want. That’s the risk of Bingo, the risk of the trickster. You never know what you’re gonna get when your numbers are called.
The Gwaandak Theatre reading of The Rez Sisters happens tonight, Wednesday, July 14, at 7:30 p.m. at the Old Fire Hall. Doors open at 7 p.m.
Come find out what the sisters discover at the Biggest Bingo Game in the World.