Worcester Telegram & Gazette
Imagine having your child taken away from you, not by choice, but circumstance. That is the subject of playwright Drew Hayden Taylor’s “Someday,” a drama based on the Native Canadian “scoop-up” of the 1950s and 1960s, where Canadian social policy allowed the Children’s Aid Society to remove Native children from their reserve homes and parents and place them in a white, middle-class environment. It’s a wrenching situation that still exists today, and it’s the fate that befell Janice (Grace) Wirth (Cherry Lynn Zinger), who was taken from her mother, Anne Wabung (Nancy Hilliard) 35 years ago.
As grim as this may sound, “Someday” doesn’t pummel one with the polemical outrage of social injustice. It’s much closer to being a Hallmark Channel movie, infused with an extra measure of domestic wit, measured poignancy and striking irony, one that Algonkuin Theatre Projects served up with engaging precision on Friday evening at the Singh Performance Center in Whitinsville. It’s the first of a connective Native trilogy – “Only Drunks & Children Tell the Truth” (in July) and “400 Kilometres” (this fall) – that director Marty BlackEagle has in store for theatergoers looking to expand their cultural horizons. He’s off to a fine start with this well-acted production, set in a fictional Ojibway community on the Otter Lake Reserve in central Ontario, the week before Christmas in 1991.
The first person we meet is Rodney (James Lamoureux), who multitasks as the play’s sometime “Our Reservation” narrator, and the boyfriend of Anne’s 23-year-old daughter, Barb Wabung (Haneen Jaarar). He’s a snow-shoveling cynic who complains to the audience that he hates Christmas. It wasn’t parental neglect that wrested Anne’s baby from her 35 years ago, unless one includes abject poverty as a form of neglect. In a fantastical twist of fate, Anne becomes the beneficiary of a winning lottery ticket for $5 million dollars, which gives a double meaning to the title of Taylor’s play. Anne clings to the hope that “someday” she will be reunited with the daughter taken away from her. She faithfully buys lottery tickets in the hope that “someday” she will be rich. Having achieved one goal, the other must inevitably follow, but it’s a mother and daughter reunion wrought with an unsettling swirl of guilt, recrimination, confusion and heartache.
Grace is a successful Toronto entertainment lawyer, who wanted to find her biological mother as much as Anne wanted to find her. She wants answers to questions. Why did her mother give her up? The most moving scene of the play is Anne’s awkward attempt to fill in some of the blanks for Grace. She was named after Grace Kelly. “Rear Window” was the first movie that Anne saw, even though “High Noon” is her favorite Grace Kelly movie. Taylor inserts a witty cultural divide in this ice-breaking conversation when Anne is trying to remember the name of the “bald-headed man” in “The Magnificent Seven.” Grace tells her it was Yul Brynner, but quick to add that she prefers “The Seven Samurai” to the Hollywood remake. Anne, of course, has never heard of Kurosawa’s Japanese classic, and says she’ll put it on her list of movies to see.
“Someday” rarely rises to dramatic intensity until Grace is livid that a culture could allow her to be taken away from her mother. She takes it out on Anne in a heated display of anger really targeted toward societal misconduct and injustice.
BlackEagle’s cast is top shelf in all the essential ways. Hilliard and Zinger bring impressive emotional complexity to their roles, as Anne and Grace grapple with a 35-year void that each is trying to address from, perhaps, unbridgeable perspectives. Zinger and Jaarar establish an intriguing sibling rivalry between the long-lost older sister and the younger one, who until now, hasn’t had to share her mother’s affections with anyone else. Jaarar brings exuberant, playful affection to the role of Barb, who is glad to have an older sister but resentful that Grace’s comfortable middle-class upbringing has shielded her from knowing the hardships Barb faced in her own Native upbringing. Lamoureux plays Rodney with cheeky, good-natured charm, part informative bystander to the domestic drama unfolding before him, and a caring referee in the middle of it. Just don’t expect him to like Christmas anytime soon.
One of the strengths of “Someday” is that it doesn’t wrap things up in a nice, neat Hallmark ending. In a play where emotional wounds are going to take a long time to heal, if they do at all, there is only room for the “we’ll see” ambiguity that concludes this provocative production.
by Paul Kolas