By Theodora MacLeod - Lethbridge Herald Local Journalism Initiative Reporter on October 5, 2023.
In Tara Beagan’s “Honour Beat,” death is approached with acuity and humour. Premiering at the Sterndale Bennett Theatre this evening and running until Oct. 14, the play produced by New West Theatre features a cast of four actors and follows a terminally ill Indigenous woman and her two clashing daughters as they come together to navigate the mother’s final days and the complexities of love and preparing for loss.
Told with a sharp wit, the dark comedy takes on the topics of Indigenous history in Canada, such as residential schools, and the customs surrounding the end of life. However, through that the focus remains on the relationships between mother and daughters.
“The sisters are crusty and loveable,” says director Valerie Planche.
In the role for the second time, the Metis director says, “it’s about people trying to find common ground. That’s what we’re doingâ€¦ right? In Canada we’re trying to find common ground and it’s really hard.”
Planche says the Indigenous show is a first for “theatres on this land,” and she points out the absurdity of having such a milestone come in 2023.
“Why it’s important is we have this divide of what we think an Indigenous person is and this helps our audiences come and sit with folks who are going through the same things they are.”
At its core “Honour Beat” is about connection and human experience.
“Although we’re touching on difficult topics, Tara does it in a way that is palatable,” says Michaela Washburn who plays Anna Rae, one of the two sisters, and who has been working with Beagan’s plays since 2005. “She doesn’t beat you over the head with it and I really appreciate that.”
Given the content matter, the performance is not recommended for children under the age of 14, but for those old enough to attend the show, it is filled with laughter and depth.
“Tara has an amazing facility for opening your heart up with laughter, and then smacking you in the face,” Planche says.
Making her acting debut in the role of Mom, is Hoop dancer Sandra Lamouche. Hailing from Bigstone Cree Nation in Northern Alberta, Lamouche studied at the University of Lethbridge and married into the Piikani Nation. She says plays like “Honour Beat” are an important part of reconciliation.
“We talk about truth before reconciliation, so part of that truth is hearing different stories,” Lamouche says. “We can never know everything that happened, but we can start to learn different stories and as many as we can about what might have happened or things that actually did happen and make a connection to our hearts.”
When it comes to approaching culturally sensitive material, Planche says first and foremost she humbles herself.
“I am a Metis woman. I have my own experience; I don’t have the experience of three generations of trauma that have happened on this land that we call Canada. I think the biggest thing is to be open and generous and present.”
Tickets for the show, which is produced with sponsorship from the Reconciliation Lethbridge Advisory Council, can be purchased in-person at the Yates ticket centre or online at http://www.enmaxcentre.ca.