So yesterday was the most awesome day I’ve had in a while…but then, you might expect that from a triple-bill day at UNDERCURRENTS at the GCTC studio. It was definitely worth booking the weekend off from the drudgery to start my festival viewing early this weekend, because it turns out I still had some goddam great theatre left to see. Bumped into one of Ottawa’s most talented actors Michelle leBlanc, who had the same three show idea as me, and we became seat buddies for the rest of the day. So, already a great day.
First show up was THE TASHME PROJECT: THE LIVING ARCHIVES, a verbatim piece from Matt Miwa and Julie Tamiko Manning. For those not in the know, verbatim just refers to theatre whose text is culled from the real words of real people, often through interviews or the like. I guess the most famous is THE LARAMIE PROJECT (and more recently in Ottawa, GRAIN OF SALT), and it’s a style of theatre that I deeply adore. This particular piece is centered on Tashme, an internment camp for BC Japanese-Canadians during WWII, and the stories Julie and Matt have gathered from its survivors and descendants. The whole story of the camps and forced relocations is one of the more deeply shameful bits of Canadian heritage that don’t get mentioned much in polite conversation, so right away this is, to my mind, a damn important bit of work. Using a beautiful and simple trick of structure, Matt and Julie embody what appear to be dozens of different persons, each retelling a different bit of the history of the Tashme generation, as well as the ones that followed. Some are funny as Hell, some are just as bitter, many are revelatory. And all of them are voices that have needed to be heard for a long, long time now.
Matt and Julie are top-notch in their performances, seamlessly moving from one character to the next and treating each with the utmost respect and pride. Miwa, who once upon a time blew me away in Evolution Theatre’s great LITTLE MARTYRS, continues to impress here, most especially as a camp survivor railing against a racist history teacher. And Manning is stellar, often coming back to one specific character who seems to act as a bit of a focal point/unofficial narrator for the whole sordid story. I was always entertained during TASHME, and also learned a hell of a lot that I feel like I SHOULD have known a long time ago. You’ll hear the words ‘haunting’ and ‘beautiful’ a lot when people talk about this show, and there’s good reason for that. But do yourself a favour and find out for yourself. As for me…well, I still had two shows to see. Peace, love and soul,
Kevin Reid, the Visitor (and Winston)