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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Theatre review: You used to call me Marie… is enlightening

You used to call me Marie... continues as part of The Cultch's 2024 Femme Festival at the York Theatre until April 28.

You used to call me Marie… at the Cultch’s York Theatre is a Canadian history lesson told in the style of a Greek epic drama complete with a chorus and stylized animal masks. Through a lens of love, its storyline follows the challenges, resilience, courage, and hope of the Métis in Alberta, who continue to fight for their rights and recognition even today.

Written by Tai Amy Grauman, this enlightening play opens with the thunder of wild horses’ hooves (soundscape by Aaron Macri) while the entire cast, robed in white and wearing beautifully sculpted horses’ heads crafted by Stephanie Elgersma, gallops onstage to represent horses as a significant part of this Métis culture.

Grauman plays the central character, Marie, with a blunt straightforwardness that is delightfully refreshing. She is wooed in French, Cree, and later in Michif, the language of the Métis, by a trapper/trader portrayed in various guises by Aren Okemaysim.

The couple ritualistically and repeatedly court, marry and produce babies, becoming their own descendants who struggle to survive through the centuries. To indicate changing customs and dress styles over the years, both actors rush through numerous changes of the costumes created by Alaia Hamer and Evan Ducharme.

Chorus members mark the passage of time, dance and comment on the action. Some, notably Cole Alvis, portray the ubiquitous horses, while others are accomplished musicians like songwriter Krystle Pederson on keyboard and guitar. She sings several compositions specifically written for the play with moving conviction. Fellow composer Kathleen Nisbet plays fiddle, mandolin and banjo, while Okemaysim plucks his guitar and double bass when he isn’t romancing Marie. Rebecca Sadowski also shines as a soloist. The music overall is a definitive highlight, much appreciated by the audience that clapped along in time with it.

However, despite Lois Anderson’s loving direction, the play was loose and stilted at times. Simplifying props, costume and scenery changes could help with the flow and give the ensemble more time to interact rather than deal with technicalities.

That said, the evening delighted those who knew this true story of the Métis in Alberta and whetted the appetites of others to learn more about it.

You used to call me Marie… by Tai Amy Grauman. Directed by Lois Anderson. A Savage Society and NAC Indigenous Theatre production presented by The Cultch as part of its 2024 Femme Festival. On stage at the York Theatre (639 Commercial Dr, Vancouver) until April 28. Visit thecultch.com for tickets and information.

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