Prairie Theatre Exchange presents this digital presentation of The War Being Waged. Originally performed live for audiences in November, this production features Tracey Nepinak, Emily Solstice Tait and the voice of Tantoo Cardinal. Blending poetry, dance and an array of persuasive visual effects, this evocative piece portrays three generations of Indigenous women.
The first we encounter is the Grandmother (Nepinak). She takes her place centre stage on a raised clear surface held atop wooden girders. She is surrounded by towering slabs of what appears to be plexiglass. This set is striking, but it drifts out of our awareness as she begins her story. Playwright Darla Contois gives her short, deceptively simple phrases; Nepinak takes her time with them, her voice calm and even. Despite the intensity of her emotions, she holds them close and beckons us to discover their weight for ourselves.
With the birth of her daughter, she begins to understand her parents, who struggled through life as residential school survivors. Revealing a festering legacy of ancestral trauma, her family’s story is a grim and damning portrait of Indigenous experience in Canada. Following the acquittal of Tina Fontaine‘s accused murderer, she abandons any interest in being a “good Indian,” choosing to fight for her daughter’s future in this country. Her activism leads to an emotionally charged stand-off with her brother—ironically, a soldier in the Canadian armed forces—and then prison.
Thomas Morgan Jones’ original theatrical direction keeps this first section understated—a storyteller speaking directly to the audience. Sam Vint’s digital film direction feels somewhat stilted. Nepinak’s eyeline is trained offscreen, as if she is speaking to an unseen audience, not the viewer. This flattens much of the impact. Having her address the camera directly might have been more compelling.
Vint also frequently cuts to Nepinak fingering the fringes of her shawl. Later, when the totemic significance of this piece of clothing is revealed, it makes sense. The shot though, inserted repeatedly, is rather dull and distracting. Filmically, this foreshadowing could have been as elegantly integrated and dynamic as the later segments.
As we transition to the next scene, Andy Moro’s design work suddenly jumps to life. Mother and Daughter (Tait) share the space with those clear panels towering over them, giving the sense of prison walls, their reflected faces overlapping as they contemplate each other. There is a sense of yearning for connection despite oppressive structures.
The futuristic physical space is transformed by Moro’s light and projections. Natural elements envelope the performers—cascading water, dust motes caught in light, floating embers that dance through the air. As our eyes focus and adjust, those embers become stars. MJ Dandeneau’s music and sound design—a stirring blend of hypnotic drums beats and rhythmic crackles—completes this conversation between the visceral and ethereal aspects of ancestral connection.
The third and final segment does away with any textual elements and the focus becomes Tait’s physical presence and her internal struggle. Jera Wolfe’s choreography is the highlight here as her form goes through a series of frantic spasms before she eventually finds herself, forging a healthy relationship to the space around her. The score, now warm and bright, opens up into a melody that feels hopeful.
I imagine the performance was more arresting as a live experience. All elements of the production are well-executed and there are moments of truly staggering visual splendour. The piece wrestles with the intriguing idea of wars being fought both without and within, though the inter-generational aspect is too expansive an idea for its hour-long run time.