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Philippa Domville Photo: Andrew Alexander

Theatre Review: Cottagers and Indians—until 12.15.19 at GCTC

By Colin Noden on November 30, 2019

Ever been to a party when a long simmering feud finally develops into a blow out? And you’re the one who’s somehow been selected to be the judge and jury for the argument? Sometimes it’s a healing experience. Most times it isn’t. It really depends on the situation.

This play is a safe zone, where you can have a laugh with the characters, and explore the nuances of conflicting cultural issues.

The situation here, is that the characters have been hit with a common tragedy, which opens them up to empathy. It’s a small opening. They’re still blind to the significance of each other’s actions, and the fact they’ve been fighting for the same thing.

The conflict, the characters, and the delicious irony, are what make this play so enjoyable. Playwright Drew Hayden Taylor’s notes ask us to “please enjoy the story, the barbecue chicken, the manoomin, and the people (you may know people like this).”

I’ve met these two in my life. Maybe you have as well. Herbie Barnes plays Arthur Copper, a wild rice (manoomin) growing man on a mission. In my world, he’s my grandma’s neighbor. The guy with the suspicious tomato seedlings growing in his window, and an overgrown lot, filled with medicinal plants that may be needed some day. Or so he claims.

Herbie Barnes Photo: Andrew Alexander

In the play, we find out there’s more to Arthur’s rice farming than he lets on.

Philippa Domville plays Maureen Poole, the cottage owner who, on the surface has the complete middle-class dream. She’s ready to defend it with every trick she can think of. In my world, and maybe yours too, she’s the wine glass waving, size-you-up-in-a-second, acquaintance you’ve been told to stay on the good side of, and keep your mouth shut around. Who knew that being so perfect could be so irritating?

In the play we find out that Maureen’s life is not perfect (no surprise there) and it may be the mirror image of Arthur’s life. This mirroring is not mentioned in any of the production notes, so that was a surprise to me. This irony builds like a soft counterpoint melody until it emerges as the closing theme.

As we grow to love the two characters through discovering their secrets, we are also left wondering how this emotional common ground can find its way to becoming a practical part of life on the lake.

It turns out that change is the common enemy. The resistance to the pain and destruction it brings drives the actions of the characters. The necessity of harnessing it creates the conflict. It’s a reminder that true reconciliation happens as part of a new lifestyle. But what do you keep and what do you let go?

That’s something both characters struggle with, because every action seems to threaten the precious memories at the core of dispute. Cottagers and Indians doesn’t wrap things up in a simple solution. Life isn’t that easy. We can laugh at the silliness of some of the actions, but the pain which drives them is no laughing matter. And yet, ironically, it is the thing which unites.

Philippa Domville Photo: Andrew Alexander

As the last scene faded to black, I heard a man behind me say “Are they going to leave us with that?” I think what we were left with was the challenge to take this revelation back to those people we know in our real lives.

Arthur and Maureen have shown us how to look under the surface of conflict, to find emotional unity. They’ve done their job. It’s a good foundation for dealing with the harder tasks of writing out bylaws and legislation. And for that arguing couple at the party.


Cottagers and Indians is playing at the Irving Greenberg Theatre Centre (1233 Wellington St. W) until December 15, 2019. Tickets are $39-55 and available online.