I love characters who have grown old together, whose history is a visceral reality that manifests in revealing quirks of body language. Rarely have I seen it so thoroughly realized as it is in Where the Blood Mixes. Presented by Native Earth and Soulpepper, Kevin Loring’s play—winner of the Governor General’s Award for Drama—examines the power of past and place.
Floyd (Sheldon Elter) and Mooch (Craig Lauzon) are regulars at the local bar. Their petty squabbles over the beer tab are an amusing, familiar spectacle for barkeeper, George (Oliver Dennis). They play up their rivalry to suppress the painful history that unites them. Like many Indigenous elders, they are survivors of our residential school system.
Mooch’s girlfriend, June (Valerie Planche), having gone through the same abusive institution, has also hardened herself. Her violent temper—aimed mostly at Mooch for drinking away their grocery money—holds almost mythic weight before she even appears on stage. There is a third friend—Anna, Floyd’s lost wife—who exists now as a haunting memory.
Their quiet lives are disrupted by the arrival of Christine (Tara Sky), Floyd’s adult daughter, who was taken from him as a young child, just after Anna’s death. Her arrival unearths a traumatic history and forces cathartic conversations that are years overdue.
Individually, Elter, Lauzon and Planche are wholly compelling; when they share the stage, the air is charged. Even when their gruff. curmudgeonly exteriors are played for laughs, you still sense the shared grief that informs their anger and violence.
There is a driving, live score from musician James Dallas Smith. Smith is always present, off to the side, yet never quite forgotten. He watches, constantly, even when he isn’t performing. There are brief, subtle moments when the characters acknowledge him—as if they are aware he is a key instrument in the sharing of their story.
Ken MacKenzie’s grey-washed set provides a gentle, understated backdrop. A few tangible set dressings help establish the bar or a living room, but your eye is frequently drawn to a cloud of suspended papers, the looming presence of a documented history.
A defining sense of place—specifically, the thematically resonant spot where two rivers meet—is established by Samay Arcentales Cajas‘ panoramic video projections. The naturalistic imagery of trees and rapids is complimented by stylized animations of sturgeon and salmon. One of the most striking visuals has Christine’s childhood drawings morph suddenly into Indigenous hieroglyphic symbols. It is a simple, bold transition that holds astonishing power—placing contemporary, domestic life in a shared ancestral context.
Samantha McCue’s costumes capture a rural lifestyle of denim and plaid. There is bit though, mostly funny, that involves a fancy new dress shirt Floyd bought for Christine’s arrival. The sight of the price tag still sticking out from his back becomes oddly touching as their reunion goes to a dark, harrowing place.
Places can hold power. We give them power. Loring’s play explores our fraught negotiation with the places and people to whom we have assigned that power. Director Jani Lauzon’s production is, at once, fully poetic and totally real. Despite a couple of unconvincing stage slaps, there isn’t a wasted moment. Every gesture resonates.