Adapted by Drew Hayden Taylor from the play Tir Na N’Og by Greg Banks. Directed by Greg Banks. A Roseneath Theatre production, presented by Carousel Theatre. At the Waterfront Theatre on Sunday, April 22. Continues until April 29
It’s not an easy thing to combine magic with hard-hitting realism, but Spirit Horse succeeds.
Drew Hayden Taylor’s script, an Indigenous adaptation of an Irish play by this production’s director, Greg Banks, moves fluidly through different times and places. It begins with young sisters Angelina and Jesse telling their grandfather how much they miss their late mother, then jumps ahead to a scene with a pair of police officers interrogating the girls’ father, who has no idea where his daughters are. The officers point to a television, where the girls are all over the news, accused of stealing a rodeo horse. Pa insists that the horse belongs to the girls—and then we learn the story of how the Spirit Horse came from a magical lake on Wildwind Mountain to live in the family’s apartment in Calgary. Angelina and Jesse name her after the mountain, but when Wildwind is taken away and sold to the rodeo, the young girls decide to go and take her back to their ancestral land. The journey sees them hopping freight trains, climbing up trees to escape police dogs, and eventually finding a deeper connection to their departed mother.
Racism is subtly but insidiously woven into the fabric of the family’s life. A pawnshop owner calls Jesse a “lousy little Indian”, and Pa endures both verbal insults and physical abuse from the police. After watching a western movie, Angelina asks if it’s possible to be a cowboy and an Indian. “I wanna be a cowboy,” she explains, “because the cowboys always win.”
Banks’s direction demands energy and physical commitment from his three performers, who each take on multiple roles. Lisa Nasson keeps Angelina grounded in innocence and intelligence, Rain Richardson’s Jesse is full of zest, and Brendan Chandler takes particular relish in the many parts he plays—everything from a movie star to a helicopter—along with Pa and Grandpa.
Glenn Davidson’s set—a tepee-shaped assembly of scaffolding pipes and pallets that allows us to imagine locations as diverse as trains, trees, and TV screens—supports the show’s physicality. So does the exquisite music, composed by Anne Lederman and performed live by Emilyn Stam on accordion, fiddle, and drum, infusing the production with an additional layer of vividness.
Spirit Horse is both a lively adventure and a springboard for meaningful conversation. Take your kids.