Fight On! is the most ambitious production of Infinithéâtre’s 30-year history

Eric Woolfe as Francis Dickens.

Following two years of applauded, in-depth workshop productions, Infinithéàtre continues its mandate of reflecting life in the 21st century with the combined and refined full-scale production of parts 1&2 of Fight On! (Nôtinikiy).

With vital, overdue recognition of Indigenous Peoples manifested by Wet’suwet’en supporters joining the protest of Coastal GasLink’s pipeline project running through traditional territories, Québec’s signing of the Grand Alliance respecting Cree values and wildlife habitat protection in a clear break from colonial policies, and Canada Post honouring Louis Riel and the Red River Resistance with a 150th anniversary commemorative stamp, playwright and Infinithéâtre Artistic Director Guy Sprung’s timely examination of Canada’s ignoble past is a dynamic bonanza.

Blending comedy and Dickensian irony with tragedy, Fight On! is performed mainly in English, with significant characters speaking French, Cree and Kanienʼkéha (Mohawk), from March 16-29 at the downtown Centre St Jax. There will be moderated talkbacks after a number of performances.

Following the death of his famous novelist father, Francis Jeffery Dickens (known as the Christmas Carol baby) arrives in Canada in 1874 with all the prejudices and presumptions of a white colonist/settler. However, while serving 11 years as a member of the North-West Mounted Police, Frank is horrified by the mendacity that robbed the Indigenous Peoples of their lands. He learns to respect the traditions and wisdom of their culture and the urgent need to live in harmony with Mother Nature.

Frank was diminutive in stature, lame in one leg, deaf in one ear and had a tendency to stutter… the perfect comic anti-protagonist. This saga, blending comedy with tragedy for a Turtle Island prairie adventure like no other, will leave audiences questioning what it means to be Canadian.

Fight On! is the most ambitious production in the 30-year history of Infinithéâtre. This cross-cultural, multilingual, meta-Brechtian, action-packed romp set during the late 19th century incorporates puppets, masks, multimedia, dance and buffoonery. The original satirical, literate and provocative script breaks through learned history and sets it straight, though with more than a hint of a smirk. Audiences will have fun spotting allusions to Charles Dickens’ characters and works. Said Sprung about the core of the piece, “Too many Canadians know far too little about the colonization of their country, a genocide of the west which eradicated a Peoples way of life, resulting in present-day conflicts. This lack of knowledge/brainwashing has serious consequences for First Nations, Inuit, and Métis people, and for Canada as a whole." The company will donate one dollar to the Native Women’s Centre each time an offensive word is used in the play, albeit in its historical context.

Working in tandem with Sprung, Drew Hayden Taylor‘s (Anishnawbe, Curve Lake) sardonic, ‘red pen’ colour commentary is in direct counterpoint to the general accepted perspective of the tale. “Drew’s interwoven text completes the Dickensian storytelling of the invasion and occupation by European settlers,” said Sprung.

From Hayden Taylor: “As a First Nations person, I was always aware of the issues surrounding how random, dishonest and with such little regard the land was taken, but it is still startling to witness over and over again,” adding his usual wry take, “Audiences better be careful, they might have both a good time and learn something.”

The versatile, culturally diverse ensemble cast of nine, including three Indigenous actors, plays over 90 characters, led by Eric Woolfe as Frank Dickens. Brefny Caribou and Tyson Houseman return to deepen the work they started, along with Anna Burkholder, Noel Burton, Josh Johnston, Chanakya Mukherjee, Warona Setshwaelo and Michaela Washburn.

This final culmination is designed by Bruno-Pierre Houle, set and video; Devon Bate, sound; Eric Mongerson lights; and Maryse Bienvenu, costumes and props. Mask teacher and associate director is Brian Smith, puppet creation and coaching is by Zach Fraser, and Amy Blackmore is the movement director.

—Infinithéâtre

—AB

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