By Fred Pryce
It’s night, and every sound is heightened and intimate. Bugs chirping, a deep breath, a beer can cracking open. Two huge projection screens form a camping tent surrounding centre stage. A woman sits down on an eski and turns on the camera. This is Lila, a Blackfoot woman whose sister was raped and murdered by a man while she was serving in the Canadian military. Over the course of this one-woman show, we get a clear sense of who this woman is, of her culture and upbringing, and how her sister’s tragedy has driven her to one-woman guerilla warfare.
Written by Tara Beagan and performed by Cherish Violet Blood (Ntlaka'pamux and Blackfoot women respectively), Deer Woman is an urgent plea for justice against atrocities, while remaining a compelling character study. The plight of Indigenous women has existed, “since white men started taking whatever they wanted,” as outspoken Lila puts it, but as a recent inquest by The Independent showed, “Despite thousands of women going missing every year... startlingly few statistics are available". As impressively lived-in by Blood, she is by turns funny, warm, menacing, sometimes all at once. A gifted storyteller, we can feel every moment of her life, while the writing smartly drops information in a natural way. The Deer Woman is a spirit of wide-ranging meaning in many Native American mythologies, a bringer of love and fertility to women, but also a huntress, who lures guilty men to their deaths. Lila is such a figure, and we discover the many forms she takes. It’s important to note that this play details sexual abuse and violence towards women and children in a gut-wrenchingly personal manner, and necessary content warnings are in place for those particularly affected by this. What makes these stories affecting is the detail, from the description of a man’s teeth to a teacup ride at a fair. It’s hazy like memory, but certain images and phrases will be forever entrenched in Lila’s mind, as too will the happier ones of her trailer, her baby sister, her father. The recounting of these traumas is tragic, yet necessary given how many women suffer from their own. Director Andy Moro combines the camera’s view of Lila with doubles, blurry video and evocative colouring, lending a surreal, campfire-story character to the piece.
There is a twist, of sorts, towards the end, that breaks the audiences’ idea of what the show is and almost literally shoves it in their faces. I found her simple storytelling to be far more ‘real’ than how the play literalises it, but was always aware that it was building to something bigger than memories, given Lila’s pragmatism. She wants revenge, not another memorial. The conceit is bold and the effect is outrageous - even silly - but what else but being outrageous is the way to approach a character, and an issue, brimming with so much outrage? And even when the content onstage seems unimaginable, the camera projection imparts believability. You can imagine uncovering similarly dim, amateurish videos on the internet, like the websites full of details on missing women Lila memorises.
Deer Woman is elegant in balancing such a range of facets to serious issues with the heartbreaking, hopeful story of one woman, who represents the stories of so many more. As a white man, I am grateful for my opportunity to listen. Though the voices of this Indigenous Canadian production are new to us, their accusations are anything but foreign. The treatment of Aboriginal Australian women is just as devastating, and Lila’s fury is needed for them, too.
Photo Credit: Prudence Upton
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.