Courtesy Hudson Village Theatre
It’s no easy feat to get a room full of settlers to laugh at themselves, but the Hudson Village Theatre’s production of Feather Gardens accomplished that and much more.
Feather Gardens, written by Jimmy Blais, stars a patch of land in the town of Hudson, a non-Indigenous settlement located across the Ottawa River from Kanesatake. The play tells the story of land claims, clashes in culture, and the meaning of wealth.
When the wealthy Hudsonite Oscar (played by Bruce Dinsmore) crosses the river for the first time to verify what he hopes is an Indigenous artifact found in his yard, he meets Tommy (Blais), the first Mohawk he sees in Kanesatake, and the two make their best attempts to outsmart the other and leave with the loot.
This story focuses on the land itself which is the source of much irony, as Oscar describes his attachment since it was passed down from his great-great-great grandfather and fears it will be unrightfully taken from him in a messy divorce. To this end, Oscar works tirelessly, digging up the land he claims to love with the hopes that he will unearth something of value so he can keep his property.
Oscar’s ignorance and Tommy’s playfulness make for a hilarious yet piercing story about their relationships with each other and the land itself. Supporting characters Judith (Cary Lawrence) and Vern (Jeremy Proulx) add to the mayhem with their own motivations and lessons to share.
In an act of mounting cringeful comedy, Oscar attempts to commiserate with Tommy and Vern over the unfairness of having his family’s land taken away from him to pay out a divorce.
On this note, the play left me with a lot to think about. Hudson Village Theatre is about a five-minute walk from the waterfront, and so I took my thoughts to the river and looked across the way to Kanesatake. Hudson is Kanien’kéha:ka territory, yet there are many here who, like Oscar, never venture across the river to meet the people of the community or consider the significance of the land they call home (or property).
There’s a lot of unpacking to do for all of us settlers; whether our ancestors came as colonizers in the 1600s, settlers in the 1800s or refugees in the 1900s, there’s a legacy that has been left by each wave of settlements that we are responsible for.
The goal of this play was to focus on the truth, and the truth of this territory and the community of Kanesatake is that the land and people are inseparable. The land holds a significance that we can really only learn from the people directly.
When thinking in terms of property and ownership, we often miss the point underscoring social movements that have shaped the 21st century across Turtle Island – the Siege of Kanesatake in 1990, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, the papal visit from pope Francis, the Wet’suwet’en resistance, the logging moratorium from the Atikamekw Nation – we are in no short supply of examples.
Feather Gardens made its point about crossing the proverbial waters and taking the time to better understand the land and its history. When given the opportunity to laugh and learn on the same day, I say we take them. Feather Gardens is a great opportunity to do both. The show runs from August 4 to 20 at the Hudson Village Theatre – I highly recommend.