Review: Moonlodge

by Lynn on April 28, 2021

in The Passionate Playgoer

Streaming on the Soulpepper Theatre Website until June 30, 2021.

As part of Soulpepper’s series of plays: Around the World in 80 Plays.

Written by Margo Kane

Directed by Jani Lauzon.

Cast: Samantha Brown

Soulpepper’s series, Around the World in 80 Plays, begins appropriately enough in Canada with Moonlodge, Margo Kane’s 1990 play for solo-voice or mono-drama.

The piece begins and ends in a ‘moonlodge’ the place where women would go during their ‘moon-time’ (periods) to be in the safe company of other women to laugh, cry, talk, reminisce and tell stories. In between this book ending moonlodge is Agnes’ story—sometimes harrowing, fraught, and eventually full of recognition and the embracing of her heritage.

She lived with her parents and four siblings. They scraped by on her father’s welfare cheque. Then her father was taken away ‘by some men.’ Later ‘two cars came with the priest and white people’ from the Welfare Officer came and took her and her siblings away. Agnes was shunted from foster home to foster home until she landed with a woman she called ‘Aunt Sophie.’ Aunt Sophie was a large woman with a large voice. She was practical, jokey but said some insensitive things to Agnes: “Get that hair out of your eyes or I’ll scalp you.” In the time she lived with Aunt Sophie, Agnes was not aware of her Indigenous background. In those days the word “Indian” was used including by Agnes. She said that there were no ‘Indians’ in her neighbourhood. Only on television. Her idea of an ‘Indian’ was created by Disney.

When she graduated high school Agnes’ school chums planned to hitchhike across the States. Agnes wanted to go to San Francisco, to Haight Ashbury, a magical name she heard of. Aunt Sophie was in tears about this—as insensitive as she was sometimes, she was a kind presence in Agnes’ life. Agnes promised to write to her.

Agnes had the optimism of the very young. She was not street smart but learned quickly. The listener comes to the story with life experience, hindsight and the knowledge that a young, innocent woman should not take a ride from a man riding a Harley Davidson, no matter how gleaming the ‘bike.’ On their first night the man raped her.

Agnes somehow made it to Santa Fe where there are ‘Indians’ everywhere. She appreciated the arts, sculptures, pottery etc.  The same optimism lead her to be picked up by a tall ‘Indian’ who wore turquoise jewelry. His name was Lance and he took her to a Pow Wow. There she began to appreciate her culture; she was embraced by families who had gathered there; she was fed, both with food and spiritually. She questioned her own story: who her people were, her tribe, what her ‘Indian’ name was; where her parents and siblings were. The result was that she wanted to go home.  

Margo Kane’s storytelling is compelling, harrowing and vivid in creating a world that Agnes forgot—her history and traditions. The listener is invited into the circle to hear the stories that will form Agnes’ re-awakening. The play was written in 1990 but much of the story has not changed, alas. Language has changed—it is jarring hearing the word ‘Indian’ today, instead of Indigenous, but one must respect the words of the playwright.

Samantha Brown performs the monodrama with a joyousness that is endearing but also makes us concerned for young Agnes. And while Agnes does not lose that joyousness after some challenging encounters, she does develop an awareness of who she is and where she came from.

Jani Lauzon directs this with wonderful sensitivity. The spareness of the scene where Agnes is raped is effective and gripping. Using a kind of ‘torch-song’ as background is inspired. Over the course of the story a subtle drum beats that underscores Agnes’ new awareness of her roots.

Moonlodge is a wonderful piece to begin Around the World in 80 Plays.

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