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Friday, June 14, 2024

Theatre review: Bears is unabashedly partisan (and simply magical)

Politics and pipelines and bears, oh my!

Aboriginal artist Sheldon Elter is certainly getting a workout on Vancouver stages. Having just completed a run of his powerful one-man show Metis Mutt at the York Theatre, he has moved over to The Cultch’s Historic Theatre in a production of Bears.

Moving from the autobiographical story of Metis Mutt, in Bears, Elter is now Lloyd, a man on the run following a “workplace accident” in Alberta’s oil patch. Pursued not by a bear, but by the Mounties and hired bounty hunters, Floyd journeys across the Rocky Mountains to the West Coast.

Aided by the flora and fauna he meets along the way, brought to life by a very talented septet of dancers, Lloyd’s third-person narration of his journey is so inventively realized it is easy to get lost inside this enchanted world.

A visually stunning multi-disciplinary work, the problem with Bears though is the revelation for Lloyd’s journey comes far too late. As a result, the stakes never seem quite high enough. And even while Monica Dottor’s choreography is engaging, inventive, and often ethereal, it isn’t quite enough to sustain us to the end of Lloyd’s quest.

Bears is also interrupted by the politics of pipelines. And while it may be timely – the show even goes as far as to bill itself as a “play about pipelines” – the interruptions often feel out-of-place among much of Lloyd’s journey.

No doubt caused by how little we know about the incident that sent Lloyd on his journey, it is also an exclusively one-sided argument. And just in case there is any question as to which side Bears falls on the pipeline debate, it is most definitely on the “fuck Trans Mountain” side of the equation.

But while Bears is unabashedly partisan, and its politics sometimes gets in the way, the storytelling and visuals are simply magical. Helped by Elter’s terrific performance, the humour in Matthew MacKenzie’s text, and most definitely from Dottor’s clever choreography, on the surface at least, it is a journey worth taking.

Bears, written and directed by Matthew MacKenzie. Presented by Alberta Aboriginal Performing Arts and Punctuate! Theatre. On stage at The Cultch’s Historic Theatre (1895 Venables St, Vancouver) until May 12. Visit for tickets and information.

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