Print Edition: January 16, 2013
As the winter semester gets underway, UFV’s theatre department has been hard at work for months on the second main stage production of the season: Tomson Highway’s Ernestine Shuswap Gets Her Trout.
Directed by newcomer to the department, Heather Davis-Fisch, and assistant directed by theatre student Gabby Bohmer, the production features a cast of only four actresses. Plot summaries for the production have been floating around our media outlets for some time. Going in to the theatre of the Chilliwack North campus, we’ve been armed with the information that this particular show follows the story of four First Nations women in their preparations for a very important dinner. The lobby display is packed with textbook information about the history and struggles of the Shuswap people, prepared by the shows dramaturge Megan Davies. Be sure to arrive early to take in all the information, for interest sake if nothing else. (Fear not, there is no quiz after the show.)
Here’s where things get interesting. If you go in to this show expecting a clear Western-style linear narrative, you’ll think that the script falls short. Ernestine focuses less on what is being told and more on how it’s being told. To some theatre goers, this is a totally foreign concept, but considering the subject of the play, it works entirely in its favour. While the play is still defined by the preparation of the dinner, you may find yourself less and less concerned with trout and Saskatoon pies and more with the deeper meanings of what these women are desperately trying to say. It’s an history-heavy script, utilizing traditional storytelling methods to get really poignant messages across. That being said, don’t underestimate the humour of this show. It has every beaver joke you could ever hope to hear in a single play.
In the title role, Lisa Apps’ portrayal of Ernestine is honest and heartfelt. Geneva Perkins’ shines as the powerful Anabelle Okanagan, Mandy Dyck as Isabelle Thompson adds a welcomed feistiness and rounding out the cast is the exceptional talent of first-year student Phaydra-Rae Gagnon as Delilah Rose Johnson. Individually, they thrive. As a group, they really do exemplify the meaning of ensemble. Being only four, the entire show is a testament to how important being in tune with your castmates really is. And seeing as 90 per cent of the show is spent with all four on stage, their talent not only held the show together, but propelled it to a level which the audience should feel privileged to witness.
If plot and acting don’t draw you in, come see this show for the design and technical components. With over 350 technical cues, there’s bound to be something that will make your jaw drop. Jay Havens, the scenography designer, has done a phenomenal job of incorporating natural elements of the Okanagan valley with the rustic elements of everyday life in 1910. The shadowy quality of Gabriel Kirkley’s lighting design adds the most beautiful intensity, and Dylan Coulter was able to compliment it perfectly with a fantastic, almost orchestral sound design. Julie Ruffell took reigns of the projection design, adding even deeper layers to an already stellar looking show. Aaron Froc focused his costume design in perfect conjunction with the personalities for the characters, and Brittany Weisner did an exceedingly admirable job with the props design.
Ernestine Shuswap Gets Her Trout is a respectful and brave adaptation of quintessentially Canadiana material. It’s a show you should feel obligated to see, not only for enjoyment, but for the relevance of the subject matter. You’ll emerge from the theatre feeling educated and passionate about conflict, history, determination and the story of four Shuswap women.
Catch Ernestine at the Chilliwack North Campus, January 17-20 and 24-27. For more information, check out the UFV website or call Rick Mawson 604-795-2814.