This Is How We Got Here is a play by Keith Barker that opened at the Aki Studio last night. It’s about grief and how an event can affect multiple relationships at multiple levels. It’s very cleverly crafted with a non linear time line so I am going to be somewhat evasive about the plot because spoilers would spoil it.
It’s set in a remote rural community (Manitoba? NW Ontario? Anyway the ‘Peg is far enough away). The principal characters are Indigenous; two sisters and their husbands who are/were buddies, who we see, and two characters; one a fox, that we don’t. It’s the kind of life where work, church, hunting and fishing and avoiding moose on the highway are pretty central.
But something has happened to shake up this small world. Something profound and disturbing which has strained the relationships within the quartet to breaking point. There’s verbal and physical violence and more passive aggression than I’ve ever seen packed into 75 minutes. And there’s the fox.
As we, the audience, are drawn into the story; unaware for perhaps the first half of the play of what’s really going on, it’s often laugh out loud funny. Not funny uncomfortable but genuinely funny. There’s a description of a car hitting a moose that would make a sketch in its own right. As we learn more, the humour morphs into a kind of hopelessness and maybe, just maybe, at the end there is some sense of reconciliation.
There is a wealth ideas and themes that are hinted at but never made explicit enough to be didactic. The strains of life in a small, remote community; toxic masculinity, homosexuality and prejudices about it; a clash of belief systems between Catholicism and something older and gentler (or did I imagine that). And all this woven skilfully into a non-linear narrative that’s as clear (and not) as it needs to be. It’s very thought provoking.
It’s a tough piece to pull off. It needs real emotion and at times deft comic timing. It gets buckets of both from a brilliant quartet of actors; James Dallas Smith, Kristopher Bowman, Tamara Podemski and Michaela Washburn. Washburn is particularly effective as the one who brings the fox and all it means into the story very tantalisingly and effectively. Barker himself directs and keeps the action moving at just the right pace helped by a single set by Shannon Lea Doyle that works effectively for a variety of interior and exterior settings. The sound design by Christopher Stanton is important too. It’s his work that evokes the fox and creates a real sense of place.
In summary, I found the piece utterly compelling and one of the best new pieces of theatre I’ve seen in a while. This Is How We Got Here is a Native Earth production and runs at the Aki Studio until February 16th.
Photos by Christie Wong.