Redpatch is a gripping war story right out of Canada’s history books

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Edmonton premiere cleverly mixes drama, dance, music and mask to tell a universal tale

REVIEW

Redpatch

Runs until Nov. 11

Citadel Theatre

9828 – 101A Ave.

Tickets: Call 780-425-1820 or at www.citadeltheatre.com

Right from the get-go, Redpatch’s stark rocky design, striking shafts of light and throbbing drums foreshadow an ominous tale pointing to tragedy.

The creators, Raes Calvert and Sean Harris Oliver, have spun an ambitious sensory feast of drama, music, dance, and mask that is unlike anything Edmonton stages have seen.

Redpatch is a concoction of the mythical, spiritual and surreal realism, and finishes with a stunning reveal at the end that has the theatre-goer questioning everything they’ve witnessed.

It’s a story that was largely ignored in Canadian history books and Remembrance Day newspaper articles. It revolves around the numbers of indigenous men who served in the First World War alongside Caucasian Canadians, and the suffering they endured.

Through a series of flashbacks and flash-forwards the audience meets Half-Blood played by Calvert. As a child, Half-Blood attends residential schools with dreams of becoming a great warrior. A great war across the ocean provides an opportunity to prove his bravery.

Once assigned to a unit he encounters racism and bullying as well as the odd hand of friendship. Since Half-Blood is an “Indian,” with reputed tracking and hunting skills, his sergeant orders him to go out every night as a trench-raider to kill Germans.

Half-Blood develops legendary status throughout the units. However, the kills notched on a shovel, and the barbarity of war chip away at his soul. As the kills increase, his mind collapses.

As Half-Blood, Calvert’s powerful presence commands the stage in virtually every scene. A versatile actor, he shifts from an engaging young boy to a dedicated soldier with the snap of his shoulders and slight voice change.

His performance as a tragic young Indigenous man who has lost his way is passionate, intoxicating and heartbreaking. And his painful descent into madness is completely gripping.

The success of Redpatch hinges on a solid cast chemistry with every actor mounting a daunting performance.

Odessa Shuquaya, for instance, plays three roles as Sgt. McGuinty, Grandmother, and Raven. As Sgt. McGuinty, the fluid actress is a thickly accented, ramrod WASP who blindly follows orders while Raven dishes out feathery swaggers and squawks.

Grandmother instead is Half-Blood’s connection to the land and his heritage, a warm, sacred figure embodying wisdom and love.

Jonathon (Joel D. Montgrand) is Half-Blood’s best friend, and Montgrand delivers a daredevil performance, while Taran Kootenhayoo as Howard Thomas brings a certain gentleness as the only soldier extending friendship towards Half-Blood.

Jennifer Daigle as Bam-Bam, a Francophone soldier whose bark is worse than her bite, is perfectly matched against Chelsea Rose’s Dickie, a racist soldier who reveals undercurrents of cowardice.

Director Sean Harris Oliver skilfully ratchets the tension and keeps a tight pace throughout the two-hour production that asks serious and necessary questions about identity.

The strength of this story lies in its many layers. On the surface, Redpatch is about a young mixed-blood First Nations man crushed by war. In digging deeper, it’s about a man who is destroyed after being forced to become something he is not. Check it out.

 

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About Author

Anna Borowiecki

Anna Borowiecki joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2000. She reports on local people and events in the arts, entertainment and food industry. She also writes general news and features.