Where the Blood Mixes
Soulpepper and Native Earth Performing Arts
A revival of ‘Where the Blood Mixes’ by Kevin Loring is now playing at Soulpepper Theatre in Toronto. Loring is N’laka’pamux and comes from Kumsheen otherwise known as Lytton B.C. recently in headlines due to devastating fires – this alone makes the play more contemporary.
Although some of the writing is over-extended, the strength of this production comes from the agile acting, especially in the two main characters – Sheldon Elter as Floyd and Craig Lauzon as Mooch. They spar over a series of indigenous issues that focus mainly on the theme of home and origins. Samay Arcentales Cajas’ work is also noteworthy for her dynamic and creative video projections.
Two lifelong best friends, Mooch and Floyd, live difficult lives due to a variety of factors including suicide (Floyd’s wife) and the ills of residential schools' history. They clown around in a seedy bar, drink heavily, rely on lottery tickets for any kind of hope and pretty much ignore their families. Skillful acting moves them from comedy to pain in a moment’s time. Mooch is most comic with all arms and hands as he exhorts. Almost a Laurel and Hardy routine, quickly and effectively changes into a darker Waiting for Godot sequence as the grief in their lives is exposed.
Floyd has not seen his daughter, Christine, played by Tara Sky, for decades. The loss of the wife/mother and the interjection of government institutions has pulled the family apart, but Christine feels the need to revisit her roots and reconnect with her father. Floyd is anxious about their different lives and buries his anxiety in alcohol. Mooch’s parallel problems are exacerbated by his own drinking and his mistreatment of his girl June – played with passion by director Jani Lauzon. Christine’s entrance into these lives is rocky as Floyd rejects her need for connection. Various forms of reconciliation put a dent in the darkness, but it seems only temporary.
Oliver Dennis plays an affable barkeep as he strives to temper the tumult in his customers’ lives. Much like the ever-present musician in the shadows (James Dallas Smith,) he serves as a Greek chorus, echoing and reacting to events.
As mentioned, the work of Ms. Cajas is spectacular. Projections have become a theatre staple, but her work raises the bar. Highlights include soaring osprey and gorgeous natural beauty. Most creative are scenes of interaction between actors and projections – Floyd fighting to hold onto a sturgeon or running down the path of a railroad track. Ms. Cajas reveals how the beauty of the natural world tempers the greyness of the mortal world.
Mr. Loring’s writing can be clever with humour and wit, but he has embraced a large tract of themes and issues that tend to overwhelm – suicide, alcohol abuse, difficult relationships, residential schools, criminal activity, abandonment, government and institutional intervention – a lengthy list to pack into ninety minutes. All topics of importance. Perhaps it’s an effort to jolt an audience into a necessary awareness, but highlighting just two or three of these themes may provide an opportunity to drill deeper and develop more depth of understanding and possible solutions. Some of the repetitive writing slowed the pace at times.
Two brilliant moments offered some shimmer in the darkness of their lives. After going through an exhaustive reconciliation, Christine bursts out to her father without any preface – “would you like to see your grandson?” The audience shares his shocked and happy moment. The other instant is Floyd’s fear that Christine is reacting to poor bathing habits. No, she says, “you smell like home.” Perhaps the heart of the play.
‘Where the Blood Mixes’ by Kevin Loring
Performers – Oliver Dennis, Sheldon Elter, Craig Lauzon, Jani Lauzon, Tara Sky, James Dallas Smith
Director – Jani Lauzon
Set design – Ken MacKenzie
Video and projection design – Samay Arcentales Cajas
Stage Manager – Cole Vincent
Runs through June 16, 2022
Tickets – soulpepper.ca