Bloody brilliant

How often does a play come along that has the audience rollicking with laughter while, at the same time, ripping their hearts out?

Kevin Loring’s play Where the Blood Mixes began its life several years ago as a 12-minute one-character vignette about a man in a bar for a high school writing project. It has undergone several permutations and combinations since then, emerging as an 80-minute play situated in a small Aboriginal fishing village, Kumsheen — part of the N’lakap’mux nation — and exploring the effects of the residential school system upon the lives of five residents of that village.
This was not part of the regularly scheduled PTE season — nor was there any money in PTE’s budget to fund it — but thanks to the efforts of Bob Metcalfe and the PTE board of directors who successfully hustled for money from the Canada, Manitoba and Winnipeg arts councils, and Winnipeg businesses who purchased tickets to guarantee sufficient funding, the offer of a 10-night run became a reality.

The play opens with a bar scene in which Floyd (Bill Merasty), an aboriginal male, is being served a drink by George (Tom McBeath), a white male. Mooch (Ben Cardinal), a long-time friend of Floyd’s, having been together with Floyd at a residential school, enters the bar to deliver a letter to him.

The letter is from Floyd’s daughter, Christine (Kim Harvey), who was removed from Floyd when she was three — shortly after her mother committed suicide by jumping off a bridge. Christine is now a young adult. She is searching for her parents whom she hasn’t had contact with since then, as she was raised by a white family in eastern Canada. She was too young to remember her mother’s suicide. She announces that she is coming to the village to meet her parents.
Floyd is conflicted as he still loves and thinks often of his daughter, but he does not want her to see him as he is. This conflict is only aggravated when Christine arrives, enters the bar and discovers two aboriginal males, Mooch and Floyd, in a drunken brawl.

Much of the most comic and also the most poignant scenes revolve around the character of June (Margo Kane), who is Mooch’s partner. She was Christine’s mother’s best friend, who shared the residential school experience with all except Christine. Mooch is always stealing money from her, which causes her to come to the bar looking for him. While portrayed somewhat like an Aboriginal version of Roseanne, she can also be very compassionate to all concerned.

One of the most comical moments in the play is the fishing scene with Floyd and Mooch. Mooch relates a tale of how he and his father went fishing one day at the same spot where he and Floyd are during the scene. He tells of how his father had rigged up this heavy rope and lashed it around a tree. The rope was hooked and thrown into the water. Three days later, Mooch and his father return to find a 16-foot sturgeon wrestling with the line. Mooch’s father hands him a gun and begins to pull the sturgeon in. In comes the sturgeon looking right at Mooch with this huge head and even larger jowls. His father begins screaming, “Shoot the fish! Shoot the fish!” The ending to the story is hilarious.

The most poignant scene is when Christine comes to Floyd’s house where Floyd and June have been “discussing” her. Floyd is refusing to see Christine, ashamed as he is of his lifestyle, and tells her to go back from where she came. The situation is resolved through the intervention of June, whose compassion brings tears to the eyes of everyone in the audience.
Where the Blood Mixes justifiably won the 2009 Governor General’s Award for drama, and it just may be the best thing that has ever happened to Winnipeg theatre. The acting of everyone is superb. Comic scenes are hilarious. Poignant scenes bring tears to your eyes. Don’t miss it!

Where The Blood Mixes runs until March 20 at Prairie Theatre Exchange.