By Regan Baker
Time to top up your go card because Talk Is Free Theatre’s production of Tales of an Urban Indian is a ride not to be missed… literally! Staged entirely on a moving bus, Tales is the deeply personal telling of Simon Douglas’ life; an Indigenous man born on a native reserve in British Columbia and his struggles of growing up as an Indian in a time of segregation.
The tone of the performance is quickly set in Douglas’ opening monologue, which beautifully prepares the audience for a dark, yet moving story of survival and cultural inner conflict:
“It’s a story I need to tell, not because it’s extraordinary, but because it’s common. Too common, and it’s not told enough. It’s a story about my people…”
Progressing forward in a fairly standard biopic arc, Douglas continues on recounting events from his life and how he battled to fit in as a young, native Indian boy in an ever-increasing Westernised World. He tells stories of heartache from yearning for the socially unreachable white girls at his school and of desperately trying to escape the culturally unacceptable rumours of being gay.
The heart of the story comes when Douglas’ mother uproots their family and moves to Vancouver in order to escape the growing social dangers of keeping her son on the reservation. Already used to the prejudice and segregation that comes with being an Indian in a white man’s world however, Douglas quickly succumbs to illicit substances and consistently blames his native heritage for leaving him on the outskirts of social acceptance.
As the bus rounded the last corner and arrived back at the pick-up location, it dawned on me that the story was coming to an end, and with that realisation, came dread. I’ve seen many great plays ruined by a ‘happily ever after’ endnote that completely undermines and diminishes the strong messaging of the performance. So powerful a story was Tales of an Urban Indian, however, that a stock standard ending like this just wouldn’t cut the mustard. Thankfully, we did not see a happy ending, nor did we see a sad one. Playwright Darrell Dennis perfectly ends the story on a plateau with Douglas’ realisation that he does not need to surrender to his victimisation, but instead understands that, just like everyone else, he has the power of choice in responding to life experiences that are thrown at him.
Craig Lauzon’s interpretation of Douglas’ character was flawless to the point of appearing autobiographical. His pitch was clean, his pacing rightfully varied and for a 90-minute one-man show full of various character voices - oh - and don’t forget the moving bus factor – his execution was superb.
Despite the events in Tales taking place on the other side of the world, and some thirty-plus years ago, this truly thought-provoking performance made it hard for audiences to not reflect on the similarities we experience here in Australia, with our own Indigenous culture.
There is something to be learned by all from this performance and if it wasn’t for the strong themes and mild coarse language, I would have highly recommended Tales to students as a measure of how bullying and social (or cultural) segregation can impact one’s mental state.
While the abstract nature of watching theatre on a bus can be sometimes distracting (and never actually explained), Lauzon’s performance as Simon Douglas is a must see in this remarkable story that will touch your heart and mind in places you weren’t expecting.
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.