Sir John A: Acts of a Gentrified Ojibway Rebellion Not Just Your Average Road Trip

Reviewed by James Murchison

photo Andrew Alexander

  The first play in the studio series this year at NAC is Sir John A: Acts of a Gentrified Ojibway Rebellion. It is also the first commissioned work for Artistic director Jillian Keiley. The play is about an indigenous man’s quest to retrieve his grandfather’s medicine bundle. When all conventional efforts fail he has to resort to a bold act of resistance: Steal the bones of John A MacDonald and trade them straight up for the medicine bundle. I was intrigued by the idea of making a comedic social satire out of such a story.

 When you enter the theatre you walk directly into the office of the PMO. The rich wood wainscoting wraps around the upstage area, with the Prime Minister’s desk center stage, but there are screen projections above the wood  that hint at the larger story that is about to unfold. In fact Anna Treusch’s lovely set is greatly aided by Martin Conboy’s lighting design and Nick Bottomley’s fantastic projection design.

 The cast is stellar. Herbie Barnes as Hugh and Darrel Dennis as Bobby are the driving force of the road trip tale. They have the undeniable chemistry that is at the core of great comedy teams. Dennis is the sterner straight man that keeps teeing up the gags for Barnes to drive home the punch lines. The perfect timing and delivery of Barnes supported by Dennis’ earnest passion works beautifully.

 Along the way they encounter Anya skillfully played by Katie Ryerson. The pretty hitchhiker is fresh off a painful breakup from her partner Chris. She is the perfect foil for our two heroes. Ryerson’s Anya has the sex appeal and intelligence to challenge Bobby combined with the playfulness to roll with Hugh’s easy going loveable humour. She adds just the right amount of sexual tension that a good road trip needs.

Sir John A is  played brilliantly with a rolling, thick Scottish burr  by Martin Julien. He provides history and insight into the man that confederated and often confounded Canada. He sways and stumbles as a man marinated in drink often does but never loses control enough to slur the oration that was the Prime Minister’s hallmark . 

Director Jim Millan offers the guidance to ensure that the real star of the evening shines. As talented as the cast is ,the play is the thing. Drew Hayden Taylor has written one of the great road trip sagas with intense heart, soul and an ever present humour that skillfully weaves it’s way down Canada’s historical highway. It shines a light on much of our dark history without preaching and that gives the audience a sense of understanding and satisfaction. You walk away feeling respected and entertained. Too often comedies sacrifice story and depth for the cheap laugh. This play has found the balance of wit, intelligence, honesty and heart that stays with you well after the final bows.

 CAST

Hugh                                       Herbie Barnes

Bobby                                      Darrel Dennis

Anya                                        Katie Ryerson

Sir John A Macdonald                Martin Julien

 

 

Creative Team

 

Playwright                                           Drew Hayden Taylor
Director                                               Jim Millan
Set and Costume Designer                      Anna    treusch

Lighting Designer                                 Martin Conboy

Projection Designer                               Nick Bottomley

Composer                                             Moe Berg

Stage Manager                                     Erin Finn

Apprentice Stage Manager                     Hilary Nichol

Assistant Lighting Designer                    Hugh Martinago                     

 

Running Time: 2 hour and 15 minutes (1 intermission)

 

 

 

 

 

The first play in the studio series this year at NAC is Sir John A: Acts of a Gentrified Ojibway Rebellion. It is also the first commissioned work for Artistic director Jillian Keiley. The play is about an indigenous man’s quest to retrieve his grandfather’s medicine bundle. When all conventional efforts fail he has to resort to a bold act of resistance: Steal the bones of John A MacDonald and trade them straight up for the medicine bundle. I was intrigued by the idea of making a comedic social satire out of such a story.

 

When you enter the theatre you walk directly into the office of the PMO. The rich wood wainscoting wraps around the upstage area, with the Prime Minister’s desk center stage, but there are screen projections above the wood  that hint at the larger story that is about to unfold. In fact Anna Treusch’s lovely set is greatly aided by Martin Conboy’s lighting design and Nick Bottomley’s fantastic projection design.

 

The cast is stellar. Herbie Barnes as Hugh and Darrel Dennis as Bobby are the driving force of the road trip tale. They have the undeniable chemistry that is at the core of great comedy teams. Dennis is the sterner straight man that keeps teeing up the gags for Barnes to drive home the punch lines. The perfect timing and delivery of Barnes supported by Dennis’ earnest passion works beautifully.

 

Along the way they encounter Anya skillfully played by Katie Ryerson. The pretty hitchhiker is fresh off a painful breakup from her partner Chris. She is the perfect foil for our two heroes. Ryerson’s Anya has the sex appeal and intelligence to challenge Bobby combined with the playfulness to roll with Hugh’s easy going loveable humour. She adds just the right amount of sexual tension that a good road trip needs.

 

Sir John A is  played brilliantly with a rolling, thick Scottish burr  by Martin Julien. He provides history and insight into the man that confederated and often confounded Canada. He sways and stumbles as a man marinated in drink often does but never loses control enough to slur the oration that was the Prime Minister’s hallmark . 

 

Director Jim Millan offers the guidance to ensure that the real star of the evening shines. As talented as the cast is ,the play is the thing. Drew Hayden Taylor has written one of the great road trip sagas with intense heart, soul and an ever present humour that skillfully weaves it’s way down Canada’s historical highway. It shines a light on much of our dark history without preaching and that gives the audience a sense of understanding and satisfaction. You walk away feeling respected and entertained. Too often comedies sacrifice story and depth for the cheap laugh. This play has found the balance of wit, intelligence, honesty and heart that stays with you well after the final bows.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CAST

Hugh                                       Herbie Barnes

Bobby                                      Darrel Dennis

Anya                                        Katie Ryerson

Sir John A Macdonald                Martin Julien

 Creative Team

 Playwright                                           Drew Hayden Taylor
Director                                               Jim Millan
Set and Costume Designer                      Anna    treusch

Lighting Designer                                 Martin Conboy

Projection Designer                               Nick Bottomley

Composer                                             Moe Berg

Stage Manager                                     Erin Finn

Apprentice Stage Manager                     Hilary Nichol

Assistant Lighting Designer                    Hugh Martinago                     

Running Time: 2 hour and 15 minutes (1 intermission)

 

 


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