Culture & Conversation

Dreamtime in a world of nightmares

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The Nisei and the Narnauks: Review 1 by Aleksandra Koplik

After Japan’s bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, Canada’s Prime Minister Mackenzie King, fearing internal sabotage, ordered the rounding up of the Nisei (second generation Japanese-Canadians) and the Sansei (Japanese-born immigrants). From there they were either deported or sent to internment camps. The Nisei and the Nanauks, Paul Van Dyck’s second play for Persephone Productions (following Oroonoko), takes this shameful, largely hidden episode of Canadian history and shows it through the eyes of a young Japanese-Canadian girl living in British Columbia.

On the run from the authorities, Kimiko (played by Stefanie Nakamura) goes on an epic journey across Canada’s West Coast in search of her grandmother. In the mountains of BC, she meets various Native American spirit animals known as Narnauks.

The most striking element of Van Dyck’s text, which uses dream sequences to spin its mythical tales, is the blend of Native American and Japanese cultures (from folk songs to the ethnic stories-within-the-story). Something about this union makes it particularly pleasing to the eye and the ear.

The production incorporates puppeteering work (from Michael Briganti, Brefny Caribou and Jimmy Blais), simple yet colorful and versatile props, and amazingly accurate sound effects to create a fairy tale world within the harsh political context of the play. The performers also work impressivley to build up stage pictures and disassemble them.

This moment in history is something that has escaped even the most educated Canadians’ notice (though it’s perhaps taught in some literature classes, such as those teaching Canadian novelists like Joy Kogawa). Van Dyck, who also directs, uses humor and simple language that can be easily ​understood by ​anyone from the age of ten up. Despite the potentially heavy subject matter, it’s all carried off with a light touch which still manages to stir the emotions and encourage searching questions. A delight for adults and children alike.

Aleksandra Koplik is a Montreal-based writer. She was previously a senior contributor to Charlebois Post

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The Nisei and the Narnauks: Review 2 by Anna Fuerstenberg

The magic of this theatre piece is the marriage of the history of Japanese interment in Canada with the legends of the indigenous peoples of British Colombia. This may sound like a dark and heavy place to go, but director-writer Paul Van Dyck has created a lovely narrative full of terrific puppets and moments of sheer delight.

He gives the P.O.V. to Kamiko, a young girl who, in a classic “quest story”, escapes from an internment camp with the help of a Raven (Michael Briganti). She also encounters other creatures who threaten or help her on her way.

Kamiko is played by Stefanie Nakamura who tells this challenging tale with great aplomb and simplicity. She also sings a lovely Japanese song which becomes the leitmotif of the play. The mythological creatures portrayed by puppets also come to life as she reacts with them, giving the play the magical quality it needs to relay what might otherwise have been a difficult story. Brefny Caribou and Jimmy Blais are impressive as a a multitudinous cast of characters, including the mythological creatures, two of which are mounted policemen!

I was once told, by my Nicaraguan healer father-in-law, that what the “gringos” call “magic realism” is just a stretching of reality, or “extra-ordinary” reality. (Then Don Rene would go to speak with his mango tree.) Which is to say that it is notoriously difficult to carry off this kind of theatre. But in The Nisei and the Narnauks, Van Dyck manages to take all of us on such a journey. Highly recommended.

Anna Fuerstenberg is a writer, director, performer, and teacher.

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The Nisei and the Narnauks is at the MAI Centre until Feb 22.


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