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Fringe Review: CIVILIZED

By Samara Caplan and Laura Gauthier on June 18, 2022

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CIVILIZED
Created by Keir Cutler and John Huston
Produced by By the Book Productions (Winnipeg)
60m | 14+ | Drama, Solo Show
Content warnings: Mental Health

John D. Huston opens the show with a warning: the next 60 minutes won’t be easy. He warns of triggers around violence (physical, psychological, sexual), racism, and xenophobia. Along with creating a safe space by giving the audience room to leave the theatre if at any point, Huston also highlights the importance of this show and its content and how these are things we need to talk about and address.

Kier Cutler’s Civilized challenges the conceptualisation of what it truly means to be “civilized,” taking the audience through the history of Canada’s residential schools in a solo performance by Métis actor John D. Huston. The story is told through the perspective of William Blank, a staffer for the Department of Indian Affairs during Sir Wilfrid Laurier’s term as Prime Minister of Canada (1896–1911). He has traveled to the future to share with the Canadians of today why Laurier’s government was “government at its greatest” and why things played out the way they did.

The set-up makes you feel as if you are about to sit through a history lesson, with relatively simple staging. All that is onstage is a map of Canada, a blown up image of Sir Wilfrid Laurier, and images of other key influential players in history. Canada’s history is told from the perspective of someone who lived through it.  This is a powerful telling of Canada’s most shameful acts, not a stilted history lesson.

Don’t let the fact that it’s a solo show fool you into thinking Civilized will be disengaging. Huston delivers a compelling performance that fills the entire theatre. Whether it’s through casual moments, moments of pain, or moments of humour that help to bring levity to a heavy and emotional history, he carries you through the show from beginning to end and keeps you grasped on every word.

Civilized is a powerful and impactful show, but sitting through this production is not easy; it feels tense, uncomfortable, and oftentimes horrifying. This is the ways art changes us, by challenging us to sit in our discomfort and listen to the stories and the history that needs to be told, by screaming things that we shouldn’t ignore, and by giving a voice to those who don’t often have one. Civilized may be one of the most important things you ever see on stage—take your parents, your friends, your children. Every Canadian (and beyond) should be sitting in those theatre seats.


CIVILIZED by John Huston is playing at Studio 1201 (60 Waller Street) until June 25, 2022. Tickets cost $12 online (plus a $2 processing fee) and at the door. Visit ottawafringe.com for the schedule and box office info. Read more reviews at https://apt613.ca/category/festival/fringe/.

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