From an opening of a somber sky’s thunderclap to the closing connectedness of song, Urban Ink Productions’ Children of God feels like rain. It sinks into your skin with its cold, grey story leaving you raw, open, and hoping for a better future.
The story of residential schools is a black mark on Canadian history. Rather than spend its two hours on a history lesson though, Children of God takes us down to a microscopic level, showing us how it could be experienced by a single family.
Tommy (Herbie Barnes) is a young boy taken from his family to attend school where he reconnects with his sister Julia, a wonderfully vulnerable Cheyenne Scott. Tommy suffer multiple atrocities at the hands of the priest who runs the residential school, Father Christopher (Michael Torontow), before escaping.
Child abuse is a difficult topic to cover in a musical, yet Children of God does it with a care and mindfulness, allowing us to be affected without apology. The carefully crafted final number creates an atmosphere honouring the experience without forgiving the perpetrators. It also maintains a perspective of hopefulness.
Musically, the performers knock it out of the park with particular standouts found in Scott and Trish Lindstrom, who plays Sister Bernadette.
The book, music, and lyrics by Corey Payette have enough variation in it to keep things interesting, while the production design by Marshall McMahen and lighting by Jeff Harrison gives the stage a much needed sense of spacious oppression. The sky, like society, weighs heavily upon this small rural schoolhouse, thanks to the beautiful work of its designers.
Children of God is a visually stunning and emotionally affecting musical refusing to hold back from its subject matter. Rather, it compels the cast, crew, and audience to come together in a moment of community. Children of God will stand as a catharsis for some, an introduction for others, yet a point of connection for us all.
Go see it.
Children of God with music, book, lyrics, and direction by Corey Payette. An Urban Ink Production in collaboration with National Arts Centre English Theatre in association with Raven Theatre and The Cultch. On stage at the York Theatre (639 Commercial Dr, Vancouver) until June 3. Visit http://thecultch.com for tickets and information.