Hawk Plays His Song For Us

I had a beautifully theatrical experience on Saturday evening at Onelight Theatre’s production of Hawk Or How He Plays His Song, which runs until September 29th at the Neptune Studio Theatre as part of Prismatic: a National Arts Festival.

I have never seen a play like Hawk before and as someone who sees a lot of theatre in different cities across the country it is so exciting for me to be able to say that. Shahin Sayadi’s play tells a relatively simple, and certainly easy to follow, linear narrative story in an unconventional way that is somewhere new for me between stylistic and realism. The actors weave in and out between subtly and performativity, Richard Taylor’s Wikletj acts as Hawk’s friend, but also as something akin to the Trickster figure, who can read the other characters’ thoughts, influence their decisions and also makes his opinions on the action known to the audience with direct address and definite cheekiness. I found this new type of theatrical experience kept me at a distance for about half of the play, holding me fascinated, my brain trying to process how this style of theatre had me interacting with the characters and the story and then suddenly, magically, I permeated through and found myself living and breathing right there in the heart of the story and it was incredible. As Monique Mojica told about the broken second step to the basement, I was transfixed as though she were physically clutching me into her. I don’t remember breathing for the rest of the play.

I think that this story is one that will resonate particularly strongly not just with Mi’kmaq audiences but also with members of any group of people who know what it is like to struggle to hold onto their traditions and their customs amid what can quickly become a cultural melting pot. Yet, I would argue that this story and its themes of balancing Native and Non Native ways is incredibly valuable for people of all ethnicities because it gives an insight into life on the Reserve that is rarely seen in film or on television or in the media. So often I think we are still given the subliminal message, even in our own education systems, that our Aboriginal People succeed when they master our Western ways and integrate into our societies and when they don’t they are struggling and need our help with their addiction and poverty. I think this is unfair and wrong. Hawk presents another exorbitantly valid side to this argument that shows that the younger generations are in some ways choosing to embrace more of their ancestors’ ways of life and that they should not have to leave their land and their people to live a fulfilling and viable life.

It is fascinating also that this play comes from Shahin Sayadi (with advisement from William Nevin and dramaturgy from Yvette Nolan), an Iranian playwright and Artistic Director of OneLight Theatre, as it does suggest that these issues and these stories and these experiences are not sequestered or belonging exclusively to one distinct group of people but rather it is far more beautiful and beneficial for everyone when we are able to celebrate our differences and embrace our similarities by coming together and sharing our cultures and our traditions and our ways with one another in vibrant, creative and collaborative ways. This is truly theatre at its most vibrant, exciting and alive.

The performances in this piece are all uniquely captivating. Daniel Knight gives a lovely unpolished innocence and exuberance to young Hawk, who is torn between life with his Mother on the Reserve and his father in the City. PJ Prudat is grounded and straight forward as Hawk’s sister Roots, for whom ambition still means following in her father’s footsteps. Sarah-Jean Jones is a feisty bright light as Hawk’s girlfriend Mitra and Monique Mojica harnesses ardent emotional prowess as his mother, Rose Peter Paul. It is also interesting that Gordon Patrick White, who plays Paul Manning, Hawk’s father, who is the character the most immersed in Western culture, is portrayed theatrically in the most typical “Western conventional” way. Much of White’s performance is in subtext and subtly, while Mojica is almost transparent in the clarity and scope of her expressions and this becomes part of the tension in their relationship. I am not quite sure how to do justice to Mojica’s riveting performance because the theatrical language that I know seems inadequate to capture the mastery that she has for her art.

The physicality on the boat, under the movement direction of Alexis Milligan, along with the dancing and of course the drumming was incredible. Nicholas Bottomly’s nearly IMAX projections also gave a real sense of depth to the play, especially the parts out in the open sea, although I wished that they were more even more vivid and sharper. The transformation of the Studio Theatre into a giant white triangle is absolutely breathtaking.

In his Playwright/Director’s Statement Sayadi wrote, “When my daughter asked ‘Why do we go to Sundance?’ the answer was simple: we live in the land of the Mi’kmaq.” I love this sentiment because it implies a sense of belonging and of inclusion. We live here, in the land of the Mi’kmaq, all of us, and that is something wonderful and something to celebrate and something to discover, embrace and to immerse ourselves in. What a far more beautiful alternative to feeling guilty for the past deeds of our ancestors and cutting ourselves off out of awkwardness, shame or ignorance!

My family and I have always considered ourselves to be ethnically “boring, white Canadians”, a little too Americanized, only very vaguely Judeo-Christian, but I learned very recently that in fact, I am actually ¼ Acadian and one of my great (X9) grandmothers was Mi’kmaq. Apparently over time my ancestors became so assimilated into the dominant culture that their descendents weren’t even made aware of their own heritage. I think this is a far more common experience than many people realize and that Canada is far more of a series of shared cultures and shared stories and shared experiences than we allow ourselves to feel a part of. Thus, we deprive ourselves of the richness of feeling rooted in something far larger than our immediate selves and experiencing and knowing a wide array of different Ways and seeing and considering perspectives that may be very different from the ones we grew up with.

Hawk is about being able to hold two disparate world views in your hand at the same time and to have the choice of taking and learning from both, of living in balance and honouring the past while serving the future. Regardless of where you come from or which ways you see and make sense of the world, at its heart this is a story for everyone.

OneLight Theatre’s production of Hawk plays at the Neptune Studio Theatre (1593 Argyle Street, Halifax) until September 29th, 2012 as part of the Prismatic Festival. Hawk plays through Sept. 29 at 7:30 p.m. with matinees Tuesday and Wednesday at 1 p.m.; Sept. 22 at 5 p.m.; Sept. 23 at 4 p.m.; and Sept. 29 at 4 p.m. No shows on Mondays. Tickets are $18 to $25 through the Neptune Theatre box office (902.429.7070 or 1-800.565.7345) or visit www.neptunetheatre.com. Fore more information about Prismatic please visit www.prismaticfestival.com and for more information about Hawk please visit www.onelighttheatre.ca

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