Tales of an Urban Indian is a powerful one-man show on a bus that deals with shame, trauma and hope, writes Monique Grbec. Blak Critics is a YIRRAMBOI initiative giving voice to First Nations writers and critics.
The metro bus idles and, like any Sunday public transport user, we don’t mind too much, because the densely cushioned vinyl seats have us sprawled out and chatting like teens about to go on a school excursion. Lurching forward, the bus stops after just a minute to pick up a lone traveller, Simon Douglas.
Simon is the semi-autobiographical character at the heart of Tales of an Urban Indian, the award-winning, one-man play written by First Nations Canadian man Darrell Dennis – a comedian, actor, and screenwriter – and performed by similarly lauded actor, comedian and writer Craig Lauzon.
Lauzon’s portrayal of Simon, a First Nations man from the streets of Vancouver, was completely convincing. Disarming with charm, his ability to morph into and out of a broad spectrum of additional characters gives a breeziness to the experience that cuts through challenging material. Fundamentally, he stands before us, one man on a bus putting his hand into his chest and pulling out his heart in a metaphorical fist overflowing with flesh and blood. He offers it to us as a warrior, and I am fighting by his side.
Scarred by an absent father, Simon’s fight is muddied with the sickening stomach that comes with shame. Shame for the weakness that left him standing alone on a bus passing around laminated photos of his loved ones and the abused people he used and further abused, telling stories of death by suicide, hanging, stabbing, HIV/AIDS, and a broken heart.
There were moments during this engrossing performance when, if we were sitting in a theatre and I could quietly slip out of the situation, I would have. But trapped on a bus, I found myself staring mutely out of the window as though I really were a transit passenger, taking time to recover from whatever drama was infecting my life at that moment.
The series of tales presented cuts to the core of how the heartbreak of rejection manifests from child to adult. When our bus pulled up to the curb at our final destination, Simon offered his dream for a future child who suffers no discrimination and is free to be a proud First Nations person.
His arms outstretched and voice wavering, this felt like an addict’s fantasy and was possibly the saddest moment of the show. Simon’s father was a proud First Nations activist who deserted him and other children. I wondered how long it would be before he went back for the buzz. Whatever lies in this fictional character’s future, what is undeniable is Lauzon’s incredible talent.
Tales of an Urban Indian premiered in Australia at YIRRAMBOI Festival 2019. This tour was made possible with the generous funding of the Ontario Arts Council and Canada Council for the Arts.
Image: Craig Lauzon by Scott Cooper