Native Earth Performing Arts presents This Is How We Got Here, written and directed by Keith Barker. As four people struggle through grief, their friendships and marriages hang in the balance. From out of the surrounding woods, a fox appears; his story, regardless of their conflicting beliefs about him, is forever tied to their own.
The play jumps back and forth in the story’s timeline. Set-ups for conflicts are revealed after those conflicts have occurred. An eerie sense of mystery hangs in the air as emotionally fraught moments unfold before context has be established. This structure draws us into the precarious world that Lucille, Paul, Liset and Jim inhabit—one year after the death of Lucille and Paul’s son, who took his own life.
The men have the hardest time with their emotions, especially with each other. Kristopher Bowman (Paul) and James Dallas Smith (Jim) seem always on the verge of a fist-fight. All their worst impulses are ignited as they strain their friendship in the effort to seem secure in the midst of their pain. When their stubborn facades finally crack, it is their bodies that betray them, even more than their words. I was particularly struck by Bowman’s stiff, yearning body language as he unburdens himself during a support group meeting.
Tamara Podemski (Liset) and Michaela Washburn (Lucille) convey the same weary ache. Their sisterly bond feels tangible. Though they lash out and retreat in exasperation, that tether is constant and unbreakable. Washburn gives a palpable weight to Lucille’s fanciful attempts to give purpose to the mysterious fox and his gift. And Podemski captures the humour and resilience of Lucille’s tough love approach to life.
As scenes unfold—between these friends, spouses, sisters—there are many thrilling little nuances to catch hold of and cherish. So much of their lives can be understood from their revealing physicality. One of my favourite moments occurs between Jim and Lucille during a brief yet significant ritual of outstretched arms and unbroken eye contact.
Scrim walls that make up their homes seem to fade away under Jennifer Lennon’s shifting light. Birch tree trunks loom in the background. Shannon Lea Doyle’s set makes solid the conversation between painful reality and storybook whimsy that is occurring in the play’s text. And the final striking image, though haunting, is a reassuring twinkle of hope.
This Is How We Got Here is never cloying. The play’s abundant humour is not an easy escape from the pain of its characters, but allows for a fuller understanding of it. It is, like the people it carefully observes, both tough and loving.