Tarragon Theatre’s ‘The Herd’ a Mixed Blessing

“The Herd” (2022), in association with the Tarragon Theater and the National Arts Center Indigenous Theater (Photo: Nanc Prize for Le Théâtre de la Citadelle)

Tarragon Theatre, Citadel Theater (Edmonton) & NAC Indigenous Theater (Ottawa)/The Herd, written by Kenneth T. Williams, directed by Tara Beagan, Tarragon Mainspace, resumes June 7-12. Tickets here.

Apparently the new play by Cree playwright Kenneth T. Williams The herd was born when former Tarragon art director Richard Rose asked him to write an indigenous version of Ibsen’s masterpiece, An enemy of the people. Although there are some interesting things happening at Williams The herdthe totality is at best a mixed blessing.

In Ibsen’s classic Norwegian play, the main premise is the suppression of truth. The town doctor says the mineral baths, the town’s main tourist attraction, are poisoned by leaks from a tannery. The civic fathers ultimately refuse to make this information public.

In The herd, the birth of twin white bison draws huge crowds to the Buffalo Pound Lake Preserve. The buffalo is a sacred animal to Indigenous peoples, but the white buffalo holds special significance as a prophecy of hope and better times to come.

In the play, a veterinarian/geneticist, Vanessa Brokenhorn (Tai Amy Grauman), wants the crowds to leave, so she can continue her work, which is to create a herd of bison that goes back to the purity of the animal bloodline. original plains. . Were these white calves born randomly, and therefore fulfilling prophecy, or were they genetically created? If it’s the latter, there go the tourists.

“The Herd” (2022), in association with the Tarragon Theater and the National Arts Center Indigenous Theater (Photo: Nanc Prize for Le Théâtre de la Citadelle)
“The Herd” (2022), in association with the Tarragon Theater and the National Arts Center Indigenous Theater (Photo: Nanc Prize for Le Théâtre de la Citadelle)

The rest of the characters are on different sides of the issue.

Vanessa’s brother is the boss, Michael “Baby Pete” Brokenhorn (Dylan Thomas-Bouchier), and he’s torn. Tourists are good for the economy. Aislinn Kennedy (Cheyenne Scott) is originally from Ireland, and her main concern is to protect the EU investment in establishing the purity of the herd – the aim being to sell the ‘real’ buffalo steaks in Europe. Coyote Jackson (Todd Houseman) is the young vlogger who announced the birth of the White Calves on social media and absolutely believes in the prophecy, while Sheila Kennedy (Shyanne Duquette) is an elder who tries to bring sanity to the situation.

Williams also throws in romantic relationships, past and present, which only confuses the mix. In one instance, he also brings up the idea of ​​a claimant – someone who calls himself native but whose claims are questionable. Then there is the complication of European Union involvement in tribal affairs. You also have science colliding with economic concerns, and both conflicting with traditions and rituals. A big problem, of course, is the government’s appalling treatment of native reservations — in the case of Buffalo Pound Lakes, getting the worst land.

The end result is a lot of themes and ideas swirling around the scene, which means a muddled narrative with nothing really satisfactorily resolved. On the other hand, as mentioned earlier, there are things of real interest in the play. For example, who knew that the EU was investing in pure line buffalo breeding?

The production is not helped by a mix of acting talents. While Grauman, Houseman and Thomas-Bouchier give good performances, Scott and Duquette are weaker ships. Scott’s soft-spoken Irish accent comes and goes at will, while Duquette seems to deliver his lines in a monotonous voice. Apparently, director Tara Beagan took over at the last moment, which could explain the irregular nature of exits and entrances. On the other hand, Andy Moro’s sets and video designs are highly imaginative, aided by Spike Lyne’s atmospheric lighting and Samantha McCue’s character-specific costumes.

In the final analysis, The herd is one of those plays that has a lot to recommend in terms of issues and ideas, while offering some confusing narrative choices.


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Paula Lemon
Latest posts by Paula Citron (see everything)
Paula Lemon
Latest posts by Paula Citron (see everything)
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