THE UNNATURAL AND ACCIDENTAL WOMEN by Marie Clements, directed by Yvette Nolan, with Gloria May Eshkibok, Michelle Latimer, Gail Maurice, Muriel Miguel, Sarah Podemski, Lisa C. Ravensbergen, Michaela Washburn, Lena Recollet, Deborah Alison, Valerie Buhagiar, J. Patricia Collins, Jarrod MacLean and Gene Pyrz. Presented by Native Earth in association with Buddies in Bad Times at Buddies (12 Alexander). Opens tonight (Thursday, November 18) and runs to December 5, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee Sunday 2:30 pm. $18-$25, Sunday pwyc. 416-975-8555.
Most of the characters in Marie Clements's The Unnatural And Accidental Women are dead.
They are the spirits of women, many of them natives, killed by a Vancouver barber who fed them liquor until they died of alcohol poisoning. The piece is based on events that happened between the 60s and 80s.
But seeing them as victims has never occurred to Vancouver actor Lisa C. Ravensbergen, who plays Rebecca, the piece's central figure, who's searching for the native mother who left her 20 years before.
"I see them as survivors, which is kind of ironic since they're dead. Still, they live on, acting as catalysts, harbingers and above all mothers and therefore nurturers of the questing Rebecca.
"They're not victims for me because in some way they embody all that women hope and long for. They're archetypal figures who begin like buds" - she holds her closed hands up, illustrating the image - "and open over the course of the show to reveal the seeds, layers and textures that these women contribute to a larger tapestry."
The award-winning Clements packs her script with poetic imagery, multimedia devices and a deep concern for both the lives and deaths of these women. There are even some hearty laughs.
In addition to Rebecca, the key figures are Aunt Shadie, a life-affirming earth mother, and Rosie, a lonely English telephone operator who connects people in several ways.
"It's a challenge to flesh out someone like Rebecca, who's searching for answers to big questions," admits Ravensbergen, a skilled theatre artist and dramaturge whose roots are Ojibway, Swampy Cree, English and Irish.
"Because of the kinds of layers that Marie has built into the show, I find I keep switching from the intellectual to the visceral to understand Rebecca's growth.
"I love feasting on the layers, getting my teeth into it like a big sub sandwich," she adds, miming taking a bite of the rich script.
"Marie's a smart writer who doesn't write down to me or to the audience, but expects us both to think. Juxtaposing moments in time and space, she combines powerful images, deep emotion, a politically astute wit and a critical eye to the realities of gender, class and colour."
And the humour in the piece?
"There's a delicious irony at the centre of Clement's humour, and she's not shy about it. As a woman of colour, she's pretty bold in seeing how things can be screwed up and hilarious at the same time."