In a World Created By A Drunken God – Review

In A World Created By A Drunken God

October 12 – 22, 2011

EPCOR CENTRE’s Motel

http://www.downstage.ca/drunkengod.shtml

 

“I’ve spent too many years explaining who and what I am repeatedly, so as of this moment I officially secede from both races. I plan to start my own separate nation. Because I am half Ojibway and half Caucasian, we will be called the Occasions. And of course, since I’m founding the new nation, I will be a Special Occasion.” —Drew Hayden Taylor

This is my favourite quote from Drew Hayden Taylor, the playwright of In A World Created By A Drunken God, which is now playing in Calgary thanks to a co-production by Downstage Theatre and Lethbridge’s New West Theatre. I love the quote because it perfectly illustrates Taylor’s talent at being smartly funny, culturally ironic and bitter-sweet all at the same time. I was excited to see this Governor General nominated play and was hoping that the Taylor touch would be well delivered. And it was, sort of.

The story is simple enough.  Jason Pierce, a thirty-one-year-old Canadian half-Native man recently broken up with his girlfriend is packing up his apartment in Toronto to move in with his mother on the Reserve where he grew up. As he’s waiting for the movers and packing last-minute items, Jason is visited unexpectedly by Harry Deiter, an American man who awkwardly introduces himself as Jason’s half-brother. It seems that Harry’s white father had an affair with Jason’s native mother and got her pregnant unbeknownst to his wife and kids back in Rhode Island. Two months after Jason was born he took off and was never seen again.  The reason for Harry’s visit is that their father is dying and is in need of a kidney transplant. None of the Deiters are a match, so Jason is the last hope. Harry begs Jason to get tested and the two men spend the rest of the play arguing and opening emotional wounds and confronting their views about the man who fathered them both.

It’s an intimate story about very personal matters and the theatre space and the staging nicely portray the tension. Set in the EPCOR CENTRE’s teeny tiny Motel Theatre (which I understand was originally a boardroom space!) the stage is placed in the centre of the room, allowing the audience to watch the action from both sides. I’ve seen this two-sided attempt before and it can often seem overwrought as the actors make a protracted point of offering both sides good views. But kudos to director Simon Mallett for keeping the “stagey” out of the staging and giving us a natural flow to the action. And kudos to Drew Hayden Taylor for giving us a script that showcases his wonderful writing trifecta of humour, poignancy and identity crises.

My feelings about the acting however aren’t as generous. Phil Fulton as Harry Deiter did a fine job projecting his character’s earnest, privileged, and naïve, “you can make things happen” American attitude.  And his ability to go from nervousness to anger to pleading to choking up with sad emotion was quite seamless and effective. But the accent! The accent nearly ruined what was otherwise a nice piece of acting. Harry is said to be from Rhode Island and Fulton played it like a cross between a Newfoundland drawl and a cartoonish Boston dialect. This is a real pet peeve of mine. If you are going to do an accent…it better be good because I would rather hear no accent than a bad one. And in this case, Harry’s character could have easily been played without one to the same effect.

The issue with speech was not limited to Fulton. Jesse Wheeler as Jason Pierce had no accent but what he did have was a delivery that was way too fast and lacked the depth of emotion I would have liked to have seen and felt. Often times I could hear the lines as opposed to enjoying the acting and this made his character somewhat unbelievable for me.  Thankfully Wheeler did slow down somewhat in the strong second act and in these moments his anger and bitterness and even humour seemed real. But these moments were too few to save the performance for me in total.

I came to the play really wanting to like it. And despite the flaws I did to a certain extent. Taylor has given us a wonderful story, Mallett makes it move and if the actors could just go accent-free and slow down to really feel the dialogue I think I could easily like it a whole lot more.

 

RATING

For the guys – Men dealing with fathers, good and bad and how you define yourself as a son are given a good working over. Maybe the issues will be more important than great acting for you. MAYBE SEE IT

For the girls – Neither character is particularly sympathetic and you won’t be rooting for either of them. But maybe the parent child issue will resonate with you and the male perspective on a break up is always interesting. MAYBE SEE IT

For the occasional theatre goer – We have far too few Native Canadian playwrights and even fewer opportunities for them to have their work showcased. And this is a good script. But I’m not sure if the small intimate performance and no frills production will wow you. MAYBE SEE IT

For the theatre junkie – It really is a fantastic story and classic Taylor. You’ll want to enjoy it to its fullest and in this case I think that means reading the script yourself. SKIP IT

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