Three and a half stars!

By Paul Kolas TELEGRAM & GAZETTE REVIEWER

NORTHBRIDGE – Ojibway writer Drew Hayden Taylor’s “Only Drunks and Children Tell the Truth” is the second part of a trilogy which deals with the true life tragedy of the “scoop up” of Canadian Aboriginals during the 1950s and 60s, when Canadian social policy dictated that the Children Aid’s Society could uproot First Nation children from their reservation homes and their parents, and place them in white, middle class homes.

Algonkuin Theatre Projects’ founder and artistic director, Marty BlackEagle, addressed this sobering subject in February in “Someday,” the first segment of the trilogy, which will conclude with BlackEagles’s production of “400 Kilometers” in March 2017. “Someday” dealt with the unsettling reunion of Anne Walbung and her daughter Grace, who was taken from her as a toddler, at Taylor’s fictional Ojibway community, Otter Lake Reserve, located in Central Ontario, and placed with a family in Toronto. Grace grew up with the name Janice Wirth, and became a successful entertainment lawyer in Toronto.

“Only Drunks and Children Tell the Truth” picks up four months after “Someday,” in May 1992, right after Anne’s death, and Janice/Grace (Cherry Lynn Zinger reprising the role) has returned to Toronto, still reeling from the fact that she’s adopted, was taken from Anne 39 years ago and has a 23-year-old half sister, Barb (Elizabeth Ann Hylton). One doesn’t need to have seen BlackEagle’s compelling production of “Someday” to ascertain the basic storyline, which is the cultural divide and emotional turmoil that was created by wresting Janice from her true heritage.

As heavy as that may sound, “Only Drunks and Children Tell the Truth” lightens the dramatic load with idiosyncratic humor and wit. BlackEagle’s perceptive and finely acted production, which premiered to a wholly engaged audience on Friday night, gets off to a humorous start when Barb breaks into her sister’s posh Toronto condo with her boyfriend Rodney (Aaron JX Ferro), and his surrogate brother, Tonto (BlackEagle), to tell her that Anne has just passed away. Even though Janice isn’t home from work yet, it’s Native custom to “wait inside” until the owner comes home, and when Janice finally arrives, the first thing she see is Tonto, and instinctively attacks him in screeching alarum, until Barb and Rodney pull her off him.

One of the strongest assets of BlackEagle’s production is the amusing contrast between Janice and her interlopers. Zinger’s precisely rendered Janice is a well-ordered, emotionally punctilios yuppie who eats the right foods, doesn’t drink, and has only decaffeinated coffee to offer her disdainful guests.

The two men provide the play’s comic relief. BlackEagles’ Tonto, who was adopted by Rodney’s parents, in endearingly disheveled, a loveable, laid back philosopher who tries his best to persuade Janice to let him sleep in her big bed instead of on the  couch. He’s also quick with a comeback. When Janice assumes “that all Indian men drink,” he replies “ I thought that all women can cook!”

Ferro’s Rodney is full of impish humor, regarding the vista of Toronto with the proclamation, “it’s a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to put a land claim on it,” or succinctly summing up the cultural divide of Big City and Native Reserve with “Dynasty meets the Dukes of Hazard.”

Hylton is splendidly alive in the role of the feisty Barb, defining her with insistent affection, pushing her big sister into finally acquiescing to some sort of spiritual and familial acceptance of who she really is. They may hardly know each other, the fact of being sisters a mere technicality, but when Barb tenaciously persuades Janice to come back to Otter Lake Reserve to pay respects to the mother she never knew she had, it’s the first step to truly coming home. And when they get drunk, the inherent tensions between them evaporate, in a truth telling scene that Hylton and Zinger play out with lively abandon, ending in a quite touching coda at the gravesite of their mother.

BlackEagle’s excellent set design vividly underscores the cultural contrast of the play, Janice’s prissy condo adorned with artwork, and movie posters of “Singin’ in the Rain,” “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Casablanca,” while Barb’s home is a cozily ramshackle reflection of her life on the Reserve. No wonder Amelia Earhart has been hiding out there for half a century.

Worcester Telegram & Gazette
November 2016

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