THUNDER BAY, ON ---- March 4, 2012 ----- Drew Hayden Taylor’s recent work is now in production at Magnus Theatre, Thunder Bay. It is the fourth production of the play “400 Kilometres”. This is not the first time that one of his plays has graced the stage of Magnus Theatre. I seem to recall “Dead White Man on the Floor” by this playwright was produced here in the last two seasons. Taylor like other native playwrights (Thompson Highway comes to mind) draws his inspiration from the story telling part of his native heritage rather than from formal literary study. “I have never taken a literary study in my life” says Taylor in a conversation at the reception.
While there is comedy in this play, it tells a serious and emotional story. There are people that I know who are well represented in the script of this play. Comedy as in life is used to make a tough situation manageable, a way of dealing with the sorrow of losing a child to adoption because you are poor, alone and for certain native. In speaking with Taylor he mentioned that “the Ancient Greeks had it right. Tragedy and Comedy are opposite sides of the same mask”. And so it is in real life.
In spite of not having studied literature at university Taylor tells this story in a compelling way, he gets a lot of things right. He uses a lot of stereo-types such as the English parents for the adopted Grace Wabung , could not be more English. Their home and situation could not be more different than the home that she shared with her birth mother Anne so many years before. The parents played by local actress Jo-Ann Waytowich and Keith Savage managed to produce a life time of English eccentric in the space of a two hour play. The boy friend’s name “Tonto” dressed in buckskins is only missing the feathers could have come from the Lone Ranger Show. With the parents receiving an unexpected visit from their 37 year old lawyer daughter they soon discovered that she was unexpectedly pregnant and was looking for some personal time to figure things out. So we have the stage set for conflict and resolution which takes the balance of the play.
The cast is brilliant the direction extraordinary. Magnus Theatre is the artistic creation of Mario Crudo and no director knows this theatre better. His passion for sensing a good play and bringing it to perfection on this stage is his life’s work. Drew Hayden Taylor thinks enough of this production to take the time out to come and see it personally.
Sometimes the distance between heart and home is so difficult to traverse. Knowing who you are and where you come from can make that trip a little easier. This is a brutally honest play about two solitudes in society that need to communicate and learn more about each other. I like to see plays like this because they make that transition between heart and home more accessible.
Michelle Latimer plays Janice Wirth, and he boyfriend Tonto is played by Jonathan Fischer. Gloria May Eshkibok plays the birth mother. In the great native story telling tradition this play packs a strong emotional punch, and even the odd member of the cast shed a tear or two as Janice Wirth reconciles with her birth mother, at long last completing the long journey from home to heart. Don’t miss this play, its a great story, and it shines in Magnus Theatre.