Created and performed by Jivesh Parasram, Tom Arthur Davis, Donna-Michelle St. Bernard, and Adele Noronha. A Pandemic Theatre production, with presenting partner Neworld Theatre. A rEvolver Festival presentation. At the Cultch’s Vancity Culture Lab on Thursday, May 24. Continues until May 27
“I’ve never wanted to kill myself. I have wanted to kill all of you.”
When Adele Noronha delivered this line, wearing a suicide vest, at the May 24 performance of The Only Good Indian, it felt like the air left the room. Noronha’s face, eyes, and body conveyed the complexity of the moment with a kind of realness that was blood-chilling. Steely resolve fighting against wild rage, profound hurt and hopelessness butting up against radical defiance, years and years of colonial and patriarchal trauma manifesting in a declaration that was both threat and sacrifice.
There are many moments of genuine greatness in The Only Good Indian, but the play itself and its unconventional form are somewhat difficult to convey. There’s just one performer—four culturally diverse people alternate the solo role—and certain elements of the script change each time, depending on the actor.
The constant is that the actor puts on a suicide vest and sets the timer, and then, in a part-lecture, part-monologue format, tries to explain what’s led to this decision. Noronha talks about being an immigrant to Canada, a racialized woman who has struggled with oppression and marginalization, and survived rape. Noronha also muses on what it is to be someone who was born into colonization in India, and who then moved to Canada as a settler. She reflects on the tension between her identities, and on Indigeneity.
This is where The Only Good Indian would benefit from spending more time strengthening the material. As it stands, it feels like the connection between Indigenous people and India is too tenuous and slight, which is not in keeping with the depth and weight of the rest of the material. The Only Good Indian also rushes its ending. Rather than naturally building to its climax—one that the audience very much cares about, thanks to Noronha’s performance—the play suddenly speeds up to a stop, and it just fizzles out rather than resonating the way it could and should.
Noronha is a dynamic, winning performer, and The Only Good Indian is ambitious, risky theatre—it just needs a bit more work to live up to its premise.