Reviewed on Saturday, February 10 by Natasha Lomonossoff
As political plays go, Savage Society and ITSAZOO Productions’ show The Pipeline Project, directed by Chelsea Haberlin, is one that doesn’t hide where its sympathies lie. The play, which just finished its run at the undercurrents festival held at Arts Court Theatre, comes out overtly against the building of new pipelines (including the currently controversial Trans Mountain line proposed in BC). In this way, The Pipeline Project is a play which seeks more to advocate and convince viewers of its own perspective rather than simply host a debate on pipelines which involves all parties. In this regard, the play is only partly successful.
Jointly created and performed by Sebastien Archibald, Kevin Loring and Quelemia Sparrow, the play centres around discussions held between two Indigenous activists (Loring and Sparrow) and a well-meaning white ally (Archibald) with facts about pollution and pipeline accidents interspersed between. The concerns which Loring and Sparrow bring up are expressed in a way which invite understanding on the viewer’s part; the moment when Loring reflects on whether his children will be able to enjoy the same outdoor landscape as he did is a good example of this. The way Archibald’s character is portrayed is less convincing, however; an awkward combination of someone who is socially conscious yet ultimately ignorant to the lived experiences of Indigenous people, he comes across as a bit arrogant. His lecturing of the audience on their unbeknownst privilege near the beginning of the play, for instance, is unlikely to meaningfully engage those on the other side of the pipeline debate.
Another problematic aspect of the play is its use of projection screens (designed by Conor Moore and Bracken House Corlett) to display media coverage on the issue. Declarations of support for Trans Mountain by Justin Trudeau and Alberta premier Rachel Notley are put to ominous music, while advertisements for energy company Enbridge are overlaid to seem like obvious propaganda. There’s a lack of nuance here which undercuts the play’s goal of encouraging understanding and listening to others’ concerns.
While a play like this has potential to incite important discussion on the issue of pipelines, I feel that The Pipeline Project would benefit from trying to more meaningfully engage with those who support the resource industry.
Although The Pipeline Project has finished its run at undercurrents, more information about it can be found here: http://undercurrentsfestival.ca/shows/the-pipeline-project/