Cottagers and Indians by Drew Hayden Taylor

Staged by Port Perry Ontario's Theatre on the Ridge

Joe Szekeres

Joe Szekeres

There are moments when I’ve stopped making notes during a performance, put the pen away, and simply revelled in watching and listening to fantastic story telling take place before me.

Port Perry’s Theatre on the Ridge’s production of Drew Hayden Taylor’s ‘Cottagers and Indians’ is another of these plays where it occurred once again.

I did not want to miss anything, not even for a second, if I averted my eyes from the stage to write something down. This ‘Cottagers and Indians’ is wonderful story telling at its finest deftly handled by two actors of solid accomplishment.

Carey Nicholson acutely directs the playwright’s 2019 script with perceptive care as Hayden Taylor incorporates humour and wit periodically to get the audience to face head on the, at times, extremely sensitive elements of environmentalism versus consumerism and Indigenous versus non-Indigenous issues.

‘Cottagers and Indians’ introduces Indigenous man, Arthur Copper (James Dallas Smith) who decides to repopulate the nearby Kawartha Lakes Region with wild rice, known among the Anishinaabe as manoomin. Non-Indigenous cottager Maureen Poole (Amanda Jane Smith) disapproves sharply of Arthur’s decision. She feels the planting of the wild rice interferes with boating, fishing, swimming, and is generally an eyesore that brings down the property values of her cottage and those of her neighbours.

Ms. Nicholson designed and used the outdoor playing space to full and maximum effect. It’s a multi level set on embedded rock which actually makes it appear as if I was transported right to a cottage lakeside setting. There is a red canoe down stage right. Up left is a circular barbecue with a side table containing a bottle of wine, a wine glass and barbecue tongs. Just slightly off-centre left is a colourful Muskoka chair with what appeared to me to be a white coat draped over the back which I’m assuming is the cottage of Maureen Poole.

Liquid blue drapery along the front of the playing space represents the lake water.

Both Ms. Smith and Mr. Smith (no relation to each other) create distinctly unique personas initially just through their physical appearance even before the story begins. He sports what looks to be a Tilley hat, aviator sunglasses, khaki cargo shorts, bright red sneakers, a blue t shirt and a khaki looking vest. She wears white capri pants and a striped white and red summery looking blouse/shirt with comfortable looking blue and white fuzzy house slippers.

They both bring to life intriguing people whom I wanted to get to know even more. Mr. Smith’s Arthur Copper is self-assured, confident and, at times, rather smug but with good reason upon delving further into the plot. Ms. Smith’s Maureen Poole is racist, pompous as well as self-righteous. Both actors maintain a consistent, natural pacing in their dialogue exchange.

When tempers flare, attitudes are heated, and tension is palpably hot, that’s when Ms. Smith and Mr. Smith reveal their exceptional prowess in performance level. I saw flesh and blood individuals in front of me who made me laugh, made me think, made me pause and made me aware that all individuals are not cut and dried and that not every thing can be considered black and white.

There will always be unique grey areas when we encounter unaffected human emotion coupled with honest behaviour and, as Hayden Taylor told us in the audience talkback following the performance, that’s where he finds the drama that makes for articulate and interesting character development. This was especially true near the play’s conclusion. As Arthur sits in his canoe and Maureen on the rock, each exchange emotionally heartfelt and poignant words resulting in complete silence among the audience members. I could sense each of us was on every clear word uttered by these two terrific actors and wondering how they might respond to the other.

Good stuff happening on that stage.

Don’t miss this one.

Running Time: approximately 80 minutes with no intermission

As of Friday July 16 extreme weather will no longer be an issue when selecting your performance night. Now that Ontario enters Step 3 of the province’s re-opening plan, Theatre on the Ridge will be able to provide an alternate venue for any performances that may be impacted by severe weather.

‘Cottagers and Indians’ by Drew Hayden Taylor
Production Staged by Theatre on The Ridge with the generous support of the Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation
Producer and Director: Carey Nicholson; Stage Manager: Christina Naumovski
Sound: Lyle Corrigan; Lighting: Andy Williamson

Performers: Amanda Jane Smith, James Dallas Smith

Performances: July 17, 20, 21, 22, 23 and 24 at 7 pm in the West End of Water Street Parking Lot #5 (Water and North Streets), Port Perry.

To purchase tickets online: http://www.theatreontheridge.ca/whats-on.html.

Theatre on the Ridge is a member of the Safe Travels Stamp program and observes all current mandated Covid gathering protocols and restrictions.

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