The Road Forward
The Road Forward

Part rock concert, part protest rally, part contemporary history lesson, Marie Clements’s The Road Forward is an ambitious project that never quite comes into focus.

[pullquote]There is something visceral, something that touches a nerve about The Road Forward, but it is an intangible. You know there is something important going on, but ultimately the show’s lack of cohesiveness and clarity makes being part of that something special almost impossible.[/pullquote]Originally created as a nine minute piece as part of the 2010 Winter Olympics, The Road Forward has since been massaged, tweaked and lengthened for Club Push in 2013 and in this third incarnation has evolved into a 90 minute multi-media offering that marries the traditional and the contemporary with varied results.

Writer, director and producer Marie Clement takes her inspiration from 80 years of archival photographs and articles she discovered at the Native Brotherhood of British Columbia offices in West Vancouver. Our country’s oldest active Native organization, the Native Brotherhood has taken an advocacy role in First Nations rights around education, voting, medical care, fishing and political activism.

As those found photographs and newspaper clippings are projected on the large screen behind them or on the smaller drum at the edge of the proscenium, the large contingent of performers mix traditional First Nations music with original music, and covers of songs such as “Come and Get Your Love” and “Lady Marmalade”.

Some of the projections are of specific milestones in the history of the Native Brotherhood, including their participation in various social justice undertakings such as the Confederation Express or the more the more recent Kinder Morgan protests. One particularly moving section deals with the Highway of Tears.

But more often than not, the images are seemingly unconnected to anyone without an knowledge of the workings of the Brotherhood and their work. It doesn’t help that newspaper clippings come and go so quickly that it becomes all but impossible to make the connection between what is being projected and what is being sung. Sound issues on opening night did not help either as the words of most of the songs were largely unintelligible. And while musically the songs were compelling and varied, the fact we were unable to understand what was being sung loses much of their impact.

There is something visceral, something that touches a nerve about The Road Forward, but it is an intangible. You know there is something important going on, but ultimately the show’s lack of cohesiveness and clarity makes being part of that something special almost impossible. And that is very frustrating.

The Road Forward written and directed by Marie Clements. Musical direction by Jennifer Kreisberg. A co-presentation by The Cultch, PuSh International Performing Arts Festival and Touchstone Theatre of a Red Diva Projects and Visceral Visions production. On stage at the York Theatre (639 Commercial Dr, Vancouver) until February 7. Visit http://thecultch.com for tickets and information.