Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

October 17, 2021

Review: WAM Theatre, Kamloopa: An Indigenous Matriarch Story

Elayne Bernstein Theatre, Lenox, MA
through October 24, 2021 (streaming digitally November 1-7)
by Jarice Hanson
 
Photo by David Dashiell
WAM Theatre’s new production of “Kamloopa: An Indigenous Matriarch Story” is an important contribution to the burgeoning field of cultural stories that broaden our understanding of traditions of oppressed peoples and the perspectives of people who have systematically been undermined. The story weaves together themes of popular culture, self-awareness, critical self-analysis, personal expectations amid cultural stereotypes, and female relationships. Though the story addresses serious topics and issues, they are framed as a comedy. The balancing act is difficult, but successful.
 
Set in Canada on the traditional Syilx Territory, the spoken language that introduces the play and functions as a touchpoint throughout the two hour, two act play, is Nsylixcin. For an audience member who has little knowledge of northern tribal nations, the language is complex, beautiful, and redolent of historical richness. It draws the ear into listening closely, and that is part of the story’s mission—to honor indigenous people and reclaim identity. The three actresses and the production‘s creative team are all people who identify as persons of color, and many are members of Indigenous Nations.
 
Author Kim Senklip Harvey is a gifted playwright whose growing body of work focuses on Indigenous theater and storytelling. She is most definitely a playwright and author to watch, and in addition to her plays, she is the author of a book titled: “Love Stories from a Salish Plateau Dirtbag” (soon to be published), and she is working on an adaptation of the award-winning “Kamloopa” for television.
 
Director Estefan√≠a Fadul has mined the joy in the script. As she states in her program notes: “This play invites us on a madcap adventure as three women work out the messiness of identity and what it means to belong, subverting all expectations and crafting their own path.” The three actresses, each of whom plays multiple parts, are Sarah B. Denison, Jasmine Rochelle Goodspeed, and Ria Nez. They play their characters with crisp differentiation. Carolyn Eng’s sound design is subtle, but oh, so effective, aided in part by original drumming by Ty Defoe.
 
WAM Theater is committed to building relationship with “Indigenous Tribes, Nations, and Peoples on whose land we live and work.” As part of the mission of WAM, which stands for “Where Arts & Activism Meet,” this show, and others, starts with the acknowledgement that “It is with gratitude and humility that we acknowledge that we are working, performing, and gathering on the Ancestral Homelands of the Mohican people, who are the Indigenous peoples of this land."