Review: NGS (“Native Girl Syndrome”), Firehall, July 9

NGS (“Native Girl Syndrome”):

The screeching sound of high-RPM machinery (planes, motorcycles, drag-racing cars?) grabs your attention immediately as you enter the theatre for “Native Girl Syndrome (NGS)”. The stage is strewn with rubbish. Two Native women stand with their backs to the audience, each holding on to a baby stroller filled with bits of odd junk.

The first few minutes are uncomfortable. The aural assault batters one’s sensibilities. It reminded me of controversies about low-flying military flights in remote areas in Labrador and the North. The people living there have to endure the sounds, and the animals are scared away. This work is based on the experiences of Lara Kramer’s grandmother coming from a remote reserve to Winnipeg. One can imagine that the sounds of an industrialized city would be overwhelming to someone who is accustomed to human-scale, natural sounds, as this is a common complaint I have heard from people who have moved from a rural environment to the city.

Sound is used very effectively in this production. Elvis Presley orients us in the 1950s, Burton Cummings and the Guess Who (Winnipeg-based) in the 1970s. The common industrial sounds are overwhelming and painful.

Are the two women sisters? Are they mother and daughter? I have some theories, but I don’t know. The painful realities of addiction and sex work and racism are incredibly, viscerally real, as the two women move through this piece.

When one woman internalizes and turns the racism she has endured against herself, the searing reality is hard to bear.

One woman wraps herself in a transparent plastic sheet. At first this sheet looks like a bridal veil, almost, shimmering and pellucid. As she first goes under the sheet, I got the sense that it was muffling and protecting her from the world. But she quickly becomes entrapped in this plastic sheet, and struggles mightily. A metaphor for addiction, I think.

On a more banal level, the junk and rubbish is strewn across the stage, and everything becomes a larger and larger mess as the work progresses. I could say this reminds me of my apartment, but what it suggests to me is that as things get worse, it becomes much more difficult to work one’s way out. The hopelessness becomes more engrained. Seeing this work at the Firehall in the Downtown East Side is very challenging. I have talked to some of my neighbours, and have a faint idea of many of their stories.

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