NOTE: This is an assignment I completed for my journalism assignment. It’s not related to basketball and I am not a theatre person, but I tried my best.
Reservations, Steven Ratzlaff’s two-story play, brings to light the extent of conflict between indigenous and non-indigenous people in a way that evokes sympathy for both cultures. By leaving the conflict unresolved, Ratzlaff leaves the audience to generate their own ideas for one and to question whether one even exists.
Ratzlaff’s first story follows Pete, a Mennonite farmer who meets conflict with his daughter, Anna after she learns he wants to give his land to the Siksika Nation. Anna, an aging actress, was counting on the money her father’s land would have given her. All this is complicated by the fact Pete’s second partner, Esther, is Cree. As the audience learns the Cree were a part of the land Pete wants to give back to the Siksika Nation, and Anna’s life seemed planned around the money should would inherit, the audience begins to question whether Pete’s actions would be just or logical.
The second act takes the audience into the life of foster mother, Jenny, foster father, Mike, and the Aboriginal CFS agency responsible for their children. Jenny believes the visits her children must have with their home community are depressing her children while the agency’s representative, Denise, believes their visits are necessary for the health of the communities. The conflict between Jenny and Denise escalates after Jenny’s children leave, and she sits in on Denise’s lecture on Martin Heidegger—a lecture Mike oversees.
The genius of the play is the concept of the play itself. By bringing private conversations outside the home, the play producers effectively have the conversation few in the public sphere are willing to have. While many advocate for one worldview or another, few stand in the middle of the clash and feel sympathy for both sides. Few get down to the base of the issues where rationality and good will are weighed (in the first act) and the good of the community is weighed against the good of the child (in the second act).
The script helps portray the weight of the issues brought up. Words like reconciliation, resolution and dispossession were thrown around the stage, causing the audience to question their meanings and real-life applications. But the script had a distancing effect at times as well. “Therefore’s” in the place of “so” and “arriving” in the place of “got here” made everyday characters (farmer Pete and actress Anna) seem less real than their strong performances would’ve otherwise communicated.
Behind the actors, a large screen showed beautiful prairies and night skies, connecting the issues discussed to our Canadian land. While Anna and Esther bonded in the first act, the prairie night sky behind them evoked a sense of warmth. Sound designer Andrew Balfour complemented this scene nicely with his choice of music—something he did well throughout the play.
The lack of conclusion seems to be the point of the plays. Ratzlaff drops the audience into private homes where division between the indigenous people and the settlers is high, and the play doesn’t show how the conflicts are resolved. By giving the audience characters with strong emotional investments in the issues and a script that articulates the reasoning for their opposing opinions, the audience begins to ponder just what “resolution” might look like, if it is possible. This question has sneaked into my thoughts everyday since.
The talkback session, however, did not provoke any further pondering. Ratzlaff didn’t answer any questions in a straight manner but many questions weren’t posed as such anyway.
I had expected there to be a little more dramatic action in the play, which instead comprised mostly of conversations. However, the conflict of the conversations was so high, a lack of action didn’t detract too much from the play. What did, however, was the lecture Denise gives in the second act. Some fellow audience members commented that they felt like they were back in university. I felt university would’ve been a much better option. This was less exciting than my university lectures were. Teamed with the notion the audience had that they were at a play, the lecture scene stained an otherwise engaging and culturally important work of art.