Guy Sprung’s (writer/director) new production, Fight On!, has most of everything that you would expect from a production of this scale. From the imagery to the lighting, the effects, the props, the exquisite nature poetry describing the Prairies and even the scroll cues that he depends on for a large part of his narrative critique. All in all, Fight On! is an extremely well put together, carefully crafted and competent production; dynamic and entertaining.
The actors playing multiple roles (I had a problem with this creative choice many years ago, as it doesn’t allow for an actor to get into the soul of the character they are playing, but with a 70-odd character cast it’s impossible to do so and way more efficient to have that) are strong and everyone delivers what they were signed up to do. The two actors who play solitary roles, Daniel Brochu playing Francis Dickens and Howard Rosenstein playing Charles Dickens were engaging and Tyson Houseman playing Chief Big Cariboo deserves special mention for the particularly impressive and eloquent speech he delivers, speaking to the complete lack of an understanding that the colonizers had of the lands they claimed. It’s humanist poetry at its best. The play’s text is voluminous, so Sprung also uses spoken word narration as an important tool to constantly nudge the story along.
But with all of the pomp and show, the soul of the play/production is Francis’ journey to the heart of the Canadian Prairies and a realization that eventually dawns on him, that colonization was real, not ok and genocidal. Francis obviously never uses these words, nor implies that he understood it in that vein. Driven by this central character, the humanizing force that this limping Englishman traversing the great North is made out to be, Fight On also has another protagonist. As the play is set right after the death of Charles Dickens, you are made privy to his ghost, who appears to his son Francis and talks to him, reprimands him, berates him and once in a while also compliments a task that perhaps was worthy of applause. The interaction between an overbearing, self-absorbed and loud Dickens with the meek, unrefined, stuttering Francis is rather stark and presents for enough theatricals. It acts as the link that runs through the play, with Francis constantly seeking his father’s approval.
My only concern with this whole thing was, who was Sprung trying to humanize? Swaths of colonial wrongs are on display. Links are even made with colonial excesses around the world and the humour is really on point. There is enough text that mocks and/or satires what was claimed to be the civilized saving the savages, but there perhaps wasn’t enough nuance that would hold my attention. The talking points are there and very important, however outside of that, the piece didn’t scratch the surface deep enough. I came out thinking that Francis turned perpetrator to ally, and perhaps that was the only intention.
The English are shown as caricatures of buffoonery, target of ridicule, while the English colonizers were far from it. The genocidal tendencies were rampant, methodical and insidious. There was even a vaguely floating suggestion that while the Yankees killed the ‘Indians’, the Canadians entered into treaties with them; again not sure if the nuance was lost or evaded?
My loudest criticism perhaps has to be for the discussion, or lack thereof around the
Indian Act. From where I sat, it seemed that the theft and pillage that has been the consequence of the Indian Act, as it applies to Indigenous communities across Canada, was confined to 1876 (the year of its enactment). It’s as if the whole national order in Canada, as seen through the prism of the play, was a thing of the past. My word of caution is that recounting an historic event, as a reminder to what happened, should not be conflated with a false sense of contemporary reality. The state of Indigenous peoples in 1872 vs. 2018 is not starkly different. The genocide, pillage and theft has continued and perhaps that’s what I was waiting for Sprung’s words to shout out and say.
Fight On seems like an honest attempt to starting a conversation, and this being the first part of the production, I look forward to seeing what engagement part 2 brings.
Fight On is playing at Espace Knox 6215 avenue Godfrey, Montreal – H4B 1K3 between April 10 – 22. Details HERE.