Theatre Calgary’s Honour Beat is a refreshing story

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It’s when we all come together that it can all fall apart. The sisters of Theatre Calgary’s Honour Beat are trying the best they can to keep the story of their family together, as they lose their mother. The play is about the mother daughter relationship and the strong ties of family that keep us together. Honour Beat by Tara Beagan is a world premiere for Theatre Calgary and features a team of Indigenous artists, mostly women. It is a great thing to see as it is important to hear a diversity of stories and voices on stage, and Theatre Calgary accomplished that with this production. The play has the right mix of humour and heart and explores the wounds of the past without alienating the audience. It could use a bit more tension but there is a strong female voice throughout the narrative and an Indigenous heartbeat that keeps the story line moving.

The play tells of Rae-Anna (Tracey Nepinak) who has rushed her mom (Paula-Jean Prudat) to hospital because she lost consciousness. The hospital isn’t an ideal place for their mom but Rae-Anna panicked. Her sister Anna-Rae (Monique Monjica) shows up as she was at the Sundance Ceremony. The sisters have friction between them, as sisters do. Rae-Anna feels that Anna-Rae stole their mom from her and moved her to Toronto and Anna-Rae feels like their mom shouldn’t be in the hospital because it isn’t where she would have wanted to be.

There are added complications to the situation and one of those thing is Spanish (Bernard Starlight). He’s a nurse who is there to fulfill their mom’s wishes and seems to have a deep relationship with the Mom and Anna-Rae. The audience gets to see the animation of the sister’s relationship with their mom as they have conversation with her in their minds. Her ghost-like memory is playful and comical when she interacts with her girls and she also tries her best to keep the peace between them. Honour Beat doesn’t shy away from illustrating how trauma and the wounds of the past impact families, the sisters talk about how their mom ran away from her Residential School and how they wouldn’t be alive if she didn’t. The girls have deep scars from that trauma but their mother was a strong leader and pillar in their lives that kept them grounded.

Tara Beagan’s words come alive with rigor under Michelle Thrush’s direction. Thrush ensures that the relationship between mom and daughters is front and centre and helps move the story along to try and build tension. Andy Moro’s projection design is needed to illustrate parts of the story, but at times is a bit jarring instead of integrating into the play seamlessly. His set design reduces the vastness of the Maxbell stage while Patrick Beagan’s lighting design added a layer to the production. Deanna H. Choi’s sound design really helps to emphasize the music and songs that are important in Indigenous culture.

Mojica and Nepinak bring nuance to their characters, especially when the sisters are in conflict. Prudat portrays the mother as a combination between ghost and spirit and combined with Choi’s sound design she really sounds like a memory. Starlight’s portrayal of Spanish is a bit flat at times, especially in comparison

Honour Beat tells of story of a mother who carried her children and instilled strength in them. Rae-Anna says at some point ‘who will I be when she is gone?’ It is a moving story of the relationship between mother and daughter with an Indigenous point of view. And that’s completely refreshing.

Theatre Calgary’s production of Honour Beat runs until September 29th. More information is available online.

Photo: (From left to right) Paula-Jean Prudat (Mom), Monique Mojica (Anna-Rae), Tracey Nepinak (Rae-Anna).
Credit: Brian Harder

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