Members of the cast of the Arts Club Theatre Company production of Thanks For Giving. Photo by Emily Cooper.
Members of the cast of the Arts Club Theatre Company production of Thanks For Giving. Photo by Emily Cooper.

Kevin Loring writes and directs Thanks For Giving about a family coming together for a holiday, and how their personal histories and viewpoints define them.

While First Nations grandmother Nan is preparing the Thanksgiving feast, her Caucasian husband goes out hunting with her grandson and nephew. He shoots and kills a bear and her two cubs.

That night, as the family gathers to eat, they unpack their thoughts and scandals as the dinner table erupts in bickering and recriminations about past incidents and future decisions. Then the killing of the bears is revealed. Nan is upset; the grizzly bear means a lot to her people so to have her husband kill it evokes conflicting feelings.

Not wanting to disclose too much of the character reveals, suffice to say they are some of the chief pleasures in this drama with comedic moments.

Tom McBeath as husband Clifford is gruff and a straight-talker. Coming from a different world, he is complex and compelling.

Andrea Menard plays the drug-addicted daughter and mother with an openhearted pain driving her reckless behavior.

Deneh’Cho Thompson, as the under achieving adult nephew, is heartbreaking, always on the verge of expressing a heartfelt need or secret.

A stoic, but open, Aaron M. Wells and a strident, but loving, Tai Amy Grauman play the twin brother and sister. Joining them at the table is the sister’s lesbian lover, played by Leslie Does Remedios with a bemused curiosity.

Nan is the glue that holds this clan together, and Margo Kane glows with humanity and warmth. It is difficult to take your eyes off her when she is on stage.

The grand set design by Ted Roberts is a clearing in a forest that mixes realistic elements with indigenous artwork.

James Coomber’s sound design is filled with evocative music. Passion and pain pour from the speakers as he blends indigenous sounds with modern synth, complimenting the high drama on stage.

There is also some wonderful stagecraft employed by Loring.  A rotating dining room table allows a change in perspective as the dinner conversation ricochets back and forth. As the two young men play a video game it is projected around them, symbolizing their total immersion. Dancer Shyama-Priya plays a spirit bear haunting some of the characters. There is also a drunken nightmare effect that will make you grip the knee of the person you are sitting with.

Unfortunately, the overall structure in Thanks For Giving presents some major challenges.

Act one plays out slowly without the necessary drive as we jump between characters. The pacing isn’t helped with the set changes, as we must wait for a piece to be cleared before a new scene can start. In act two, time starts to jump forward erratically by years, but the last twenty minutes slows down again.

Despite issues of pacing there are some very powerful moments, the perspective of the story telling feels fresh, and Margo Kane is simply brilliant to watch.

Thanks For Giving written and directed by Kevin Loring. An Arts Club Theatre Company production. On stage at Granville Island Stage (1585 Johnston St, Vancouver) until November 4. Visit http://artsclub.com for tickets and information.