Looking forward and looking back

‘The War Being Waged’ is a melange of monologue, movement and meaning

Image provided by Prairie Theatre Exchange

After a theatre drought going on nigh two years, Prairie Theatre Exchange (PTE) has opened its doors to smaller, vaccinated audiences for the world premiere of The War Being Waged, written and co-directed by Manitoban playwright Darla Contois.

Patrons are required to show proof of vaccination and photo identification upon arrival at the theatre and wearing a mask is mandatory at all times. In addition to the in-person run of the show, the play will also be available to view online in December.

Thomas Morgan Jones, co-director of the production and PTE’s artistic director, is thrilled to welcome patrons to “a new era of theatre in Winnipeg” with Contois’s evocative piece, which has been in development for the past three years and has debuted at the perfect time.

In his program notes, Jones said, “Darla’s voice has brought us all back together. To consider. To reconsider. To see ourselves. To see the world around us. And to hold on to love as a way forward. To remember the power of love. This is how we begin again.”

Described by Contois as an “incredibly personal” narrative, The War Being Waged tells the story of three generations of Indigenous women through three different performance genres — monologue, poetry and contemporary dance — and holds “remnants of real people, real conflicts and real relationships” from Contois’s own experiences. The piece deals with difficult subject matter and ultimately seeks to answer what she calls “one of the most important questions” Indigenous people ask themselves: “What are you fighting for?”

Upon entering the theatre space, patrons are met with a feast of soft nature sounds, including whistling winds and water droplets, accompanied by a melancholic piano melody which sets the tone for what is to come.

The innovative set, courtesy of Andy Moro, is comprised of moveable, elevated plexiglass platforms with a box at the centre that doubles as a storage space. Actor Tracey Nepinak occupies this seat before the lights dim and, when she does, the room goes dark and the performance begins.

Nepinak exudes a quiet strength in her role, her voice rich and clear as she recounts stories of past trauma, family conflict and pain. The storytelling element in the performance is intimate and compelling. Nepinak speaks to the audience as though she is addressing each person individually as they hang on her every word.

About a third of the way through the 70-minute performance, Emily Solstice Tait joins Nepinak on stage as an enigmatic dancer. Her sharp, precise actions as she tears through Jera Wolfe’s choreography evoke powerful imagery and create fascinating stage pictures —both with Nepinak and with the video projected onto the set itself. The imagery presented ranges from nature and fire to astral figures and glittering stars.

The War Being Waged is not a typical theatre piece — it sets up certain expectations and then upends them completely — and this fresh take on the art form, along with the highly interpretive content, is sure to stir up some intense conversation. It is a strong start to PTE’s 2021-22 season.

And, Jones said, “There is so much more theatre to come.”

The War Being Waged runs in-person at Prairie Theatre Exchange until Nov. 24 and digitally from Dec. 2 to 12. For more information, please visit pte.mb.ca.