Shayli Robinson / Showbill Canada
“We forgive, but we don’t forget. We’re taught not to hate.” – Ida Wood, member of the fly-in God’s Lake Narrows First Nation located in northern Manitoba.
Kevin Lee Burton, also a member of the nation, is a filmmaker associated with the National Film Board of Canada and co-created God’s Lake with Castlereigh Theatre Project’s co-artistic director Francesca Albright in Castlereigh’s signature style of documentary theatre. In an interview with Showbill, Burton revealed that the piece was originally focused on the murder of 15 year-old community member Leah Anderson, but through the dozens of interviews conducted for the project, it quickly became apparent it was more about how her disappearance and subsequent death affected the community.
Under the direction of Britt Small of Atomic Vaudeville, actors Nick Benz, Nyla Carpentier, Taran Kootenhayoo, and Erica Wilson skillfully portray 24 characters across different genders, ages, and community roles. The people of God’s Lake Narrows introduced to us range from an anonymous male student aged 15 to Goldie Healey, owner of the local Healey’s Lodge, who is in her 70s. Under the dramaturgic direction of Gordon Pengilly, they move across a beautiful set (by James Insell) with truly perfect and practical projection (by Guy Segal) and lighting (by R.J. Peters) in a 1-hour show with no intermission. Thankfully, the ages, genders, and community roles of each character are included in the show’s handbill to make it easier to keep track of so many folks.
The purpose of documentary theatre is to use words from those interviewed for the piece verbatim as the dialogue and to portray their personalities; the artistic choices are which excerpts are used and how. Benz, Carpentier, Kootenhayoo, and Wilson obviously understand this, as you can feel the voice and disposition of each individual character in their representation onstage. The people they’re depicting are real, and although their relation to Leah ranges from acquaintance to sibling, it’s clear that her murder has jarred them all.
For indigenous viewers, the piece hits close to home, as nations across the country are all too familiar with the slow and often ineffective ways of the RCMP; their communities often being impoverished and dependent on their legislated funds from Ottawa as they fight for self-determination; and disappearances of their women and girls shocking and hurting their communities, sometimes found while others continue to be searched for after decades.
For non-indigenous viewers, well, it’s likely that they’re exposed to raw emotion and an inside look at an epidemic unfamiliar to most – especially for those who live in large and/or urban areas. Given that, it’s an incredibly important and eye-opening piece to witness as Canadians claim their dedication to reconciliation with indigenous peoples.
God’s Lake is a powerful piece that both empowers the voices of those who too often go unheard and wrenches the hearts of those witnessing it.