Written and directed by Kevin Loring. An Arts Club Theatre Company production. At the Granville Island Stage on Wednesday, October 11. Continues until November 4
"It's the 21st century. Get your head out of your ass!"
If you haven't said this to someone in your family, chances are you've thought it, or maybe even been on the receiving end of it. It perfectly captures modern dinner tables all over the world as families come together to mark major holidays with the maximum amounts of muss, fuss, and emotional labour.
Thanks for Giving is an exquisite portrait of a contemporary family, and one that is immediately and wholly familiar thanks to Governor General's Award-winning playwright and director Kevin Loring's gifted work in establishing fully realized characters with just a few lines. Nan (Margo Kane), the matriarch, presides over her brood, which includes second husband Clifford (Tom McBeath), a gruff hunter and settler Canadian whose casual racism extends toward the Indigenous family he married into and helped raise; daughter Sue (Andrea Menard), a lifelong addict teetering on the edge; her twins, John (čaačumhi-Aaron M. Wells) and Marie (Tai Amy Grauman), returning home from university for Thanksgiving; their cousin Clayton (Deneh'Cho Thompson), and Marie's secret girlfriend, Sam (Leslie Dos Remedios).
There are other secrets, too, that spill out through Act 1, as the family eventually gathers around the table and fights, eats, laughs, and fights some more. When Nan discovers that Clifford illegally shot and killed a grizzly bear and her two cubs, she storms off, hurt and betrayed that her husband would disregard her wishes and her lineage so flagrantly. (The legend of Nan's family is that they are descended from the grizzly bear.)
Act 2 tackles three years rather than just one day, and as such, it feels rushed. We're so immersed in this family, we want to spend time with them and we want to savour it. The actors are wonderfully believable, particularly the great Margo Kane, whose Nan is the heart and soul of the page and the stage. Loring's direction is seamless. He gives small scenes a few extra beats just so we can breathe with the characters, and he integrates the Bear Dancer (Shyama-Priya) beautifully in a variety of ways. Ted Roberts's set design is gorgeous and effective, from the tall, wooded backdrop to the slowly turning circular inlay on which the dinner sequence is set.
Thanks for Giving tackles vitally important realities of colonialism, intergenerational trauma in Indigenous communities, mixed families and racism, culture, legacy, and belonging, LGBTQ issues, and so much more, and it does so with humour and heart and deep compassion. They're family, you're stuck with them, you might as well love them, Nan says at one point, and honestly, with writing and performances this vivid, it's impossible not to.