Review: Moonlodge

Seventeen years since it was last performed, Moonlodge has not lost its relevance, magic or impact. The show’s playwright, Margo Kane, has proudly passed on the role of Agnes to the indigenous actress, Paula-Jean Prudat; the only other to take on this character. Performed at the BMO Theatre Centre from February 16-25, Margo Kane’s Moonlodge hauntingly combines solo-voice theatre with storytelling, ritual, dance and mime. It tells the story of an indigenous girl taken from her family by child welfare services. She is tossed between foster homes and finally settles with the white, eccentric Auntie Sophie. Experiencing a sense of cultural schizophrenia, Agnes’s only encounter with “Indians” is through white music and ignorantly racist films. Unable to establish a true identity, she hitchhikes to California, where she finally discovers a place she can call home. Moonlodge can bring both tears of sadness and tears of laughter. It boldly shows, as Margo Kane desired, the resilience, strength and humour shown by indigenous communities in the face of numerous challenges.

Photo by Corey Payette

Photo by Corey Payette

There is a need for storytelling and its ability to spark change—Moonlodge is about precisely that. We begin with Agnes inside a Teepee, surrounded by darkness and the stirring sound of music and drumbeat. The stage-set is minimal, emphasizing how nothing but a voice is necessary to tell a story. There is a circular pool of light on the stage and a circular moon behind Agnes’s head, a metaphor for how her story is to come full circle.

When performing a solo show, it is exceedingly difficult to hold the attention of the audience; yet this is something Prudat does with ease. She energetically moves from child to teenager, humorously capturing the voices and actions of the characters she meets along the way. Her scenes are ingeniously separated by songs and each one propels the meaning of the story forward. Although Prudat’s mimes were at times messy and her use of stage space overly circular, this simply added to the spirit and innocence of her character. 

In the first scenes, we meet Agnes as a young child, full of laugher and loudness, surrounded by family. However, when she is taken from her mother, the chatter changes to silence—Prudat mimes the cry “mama”, and we hear it instead, inside our own heads. Interestingly, the racism explored within this play is not displayed through explicit violence; instead, it reveals itself in an even more dangerous way. Kane explores how ignorance has seeped into white thought, opinion and culture. Even more cleverly, Kane reveals it through humour.

Photo by Itai Erdal

Photo by Itai Erdal

Brought up by a white woman, Agnes only knows about her culture from how white people have appropriated it: through popular songs (“Running Bear”), or through film scenes, such as Peter Pan, where the “Indian” has a red face, flat nose and chants “why is the red man red?” However, this racism is portrayed through the eyes of a child who is simply enjoying the songs and films at face value. We laugh along with her and then realize the painful meaning behind it.

Agnes is as unknowledgeable about her roots as we are and this is both distressing and thought-provoking. When we laugh we are also laughing at our own ignorance. Thus, white viewership is challenged. Moonlodge is a performance that teaches us about the importance of knowledge, story-telling, community and acceptance. More importantly, it gives a voice to a people who have too often been silenced. My only criticism was that I wish it had been longer!