Honour Beat, directed by Valerie Planche, is a story that challenges colonialism and sheds light on the topic of death within a family. The play is written by Tara Beagan, an Indigenous playwright, who is passionate about bringing the work of Indigenous artists to the stage. She uses her identity as a person of Ntlaka’pamux and Irish Canadian heritage to bring important topics to the Grand stage.
The story itself is both comedic and heavy as it follows two sisters, Anna-Rae (Andrea Mendard) and Rae-Anna (Tracey Nepinak), as they watch over their mother (Tai Grauman) before her death. Anna-Rae has the ability to communicate to a younger version of her mother and is responsible for passing her wishes onto her sister and her newfound love interest and mother’s caregiver, Spanish (Nicholas Nahwegahbow).
As the young mom, Grauman has a vivacious personality and a refreshing acting style. She was certainly a standout for me as she does not have the typical delivery style that one sees on the Grand or Stratford stage: Grauman finds a way to make lines seem incredibly human instead of rattling off lines in a feat of memorization. She is easy to love and the personality in the role gives the character a modern feminist edge.
Menard and Napinak have a nice chemistry as sisters, nicely illustrating the childish and petty arguments that build up between the pair. Menard was clearly the adventurous one who loves being involved in her culture, and Nepinak was the more reserved one who relies on modern technologies to find comfort in the world. Nahwegahbow makes a very likeable hospital worker who is endearingly awkward and intelligent.
The set, designed by Tamara Marie Kucheran, is the best kind of deceiving. The show clearly takes place in present time because it had modern hospital curtains and a high-tech hospital bed. A portion of the stage is used as a courtyard, complete with a small tree. When the mother finally dies, the set changes dramatically, revealing a forest with a sunset illuminating the area. Wooden steps allow the mother to walk forward into the afterlife.
The costumes were modern as well and help illustrate differences in the characters’ roles and personalities. The most standout costume comes forward when the mother dies, and Grauman is dressed in traditional regalia.
The only issues with the production were tech related. For example, microphones would sometimes amplify someone doubly, rendering one actor quieter than their scene partner. Projections, designed by Alex Williams, allow audience members to see videos from Rae-Anna’s phone. Nepinak’s timing was a little off as she conversed with someone over video chat.
At the beginning of the show, the Grand’s artistic director, Dennis Garnhum, offered a land acknowledgement, which is an important tool for recognizing the history of colonialism (granted, land acknowledgements are only a step forward and cannot begin to reconcile the terrible things that Canadians did to Indigenous peoples). There has not been a verbal land acknowledgement at every show at the Grand, and I think it would be a welcome addition to each theatre production. The audience of Honour Beat may not be the same as other Grand shows, so it is important to bring the truth of colonialism forward because it will never disappear.
Not everyone who worked on this show is Indigenous, but it was nice to see Indigenous actors, crew members, and a playwright getting to take the forefront. Honour Beat is a touching story that covers issues such as residential schools and spans all the way to current Indigenous issues, a topic that is seldom discussed in any setting. More can always be done to get Indigenous works, like Honour Beat, onto the stage.
For more information about the show, please visit: https://www.grandtheatre.com/event/honour-beat
For more information about Western University’s Indigenous services, please click the following link: https://indigenous.uwo.ca/
Photos by Dahlia Katz