The national tragedy of Canada’s missing and murdered Indigenous women was brought into sharp focus by the 2002 arrest of serial-killer Robert William Pickton and the subsequent discovery of bodily remains and DNA traces of thirty-three missing women, many of them Indigenous, on his pig farm in Port Coquitlam, British Columbia. Pickton had trolled Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside for victims for years while the Vancouver Police Department remained seemingly indifferent to reports of sex workers disappearing from the city’s most notorious neighborhood. A 2014 Royal Canadian Mounted Police study of national data from 1980 to 2012 reported 1,017 Indigenous female homicide victims, and 164 unresolved cases of Indigenous missing women. Former prime minister Stephen Harper resolutely resisted demands for a national inquiry; however, since Justin Trudeau was elected to office in October 2015, he has followed up on his campaign promise to launch an inquiry, initiating preliminary consultations to determine its scope and objectives.
While police and politicians have been slow to respond to the situation, a number of artists have sought to create awareness of and generate action in relation to Canada’s murdered and missing Indigenous women and to memorialize their lives. Métis artist Jaime Black’s installation The REDress Project, for example, features hauntingly empty hanging red dresses, while Walking With Our Sisters, a ritualized installation conceived by Métis artist Christi Belcourt and created by many other artists and community members, includes more than 1,700 pairs of moccasin vamps. But whereas The REDress Project and Walking With Our Sisters foreground absence and the suspended lives of the murdered and missing women, Colleen Murphy’s 2013 play Pig Girl confronts audiences with the onstage sexual assault, torture, and murder of a single representative Dying Woman.
Murphy wrote Pig Girl in reaction to the announcement in 2010 that Pickton, convicted on six counts of second-degree murder, would not be tried for the murders of the other missing women whose traces were found at his farm. Although Murphy later came to understand the rationale for this legal decision, a feeling of outrage drives her play, in which the Dying Woman fights for her life in real time, while her Sister fights over the course of nine years to persuade an initially apathetic Police Officer to investigate the Dying Woman’s disappearance. In the end, the play depicts the Dying Woman’s literal death, but also the deaths-in-life of her Sister, tormented by uncertainty about her missing sister’s fate; the Police Officer, crushed by guilt at his failure to take action to stop the murderer; and the Killer himself, destroyed by childhood abuse.
With its shocking title, graphic depiction of violence against women, and non-Indigenous cast, Pig Girl generated controversy when it premiered at Theatre Network in Edmonton, Alberta, in 2013. Some also questioned whether the story was Murphy’s to tell as a non-Indigenous playwright, and in a review of a 2015 production by Finborough Theatre in London, Guardian critic Lyn Gardner was critical of Murphy’s decision to give voice to the Killer along with the Dying Woman. Murphy received [End Page 463] the Playwrights Guild of Canada’s 2014 Carol Bolt Award for Pig Girl, but Imago Theatre’s production of the play in Montreal in early 2016 was the first in Canada since the 2013 premiere. Given its production history and past critical reception, the play was a brave choice for Imago, yet also an apt one in that the small Montreal company’s mandate is, as stated on its website, to produce “thought-provoking works that reflect women’s voices and stories of our times,” fostering conversation and reflection “with the aim to provoke change.”
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The play’s controversial history seemed to haunt Imago’s production, as director Micheline Chevrier worked to address earlier criticisms while at the same time capturing the play’s...