- Decolonizing MotherhoodImages of Mothering in First Nations Theatre
Performance can describe, through the fulsome, hopeful, radically humanist gesture of the utopian performative, how social relationships might change. I go to see performances anticipating transformative experiences, ones that will let me see a sliver of a vision, let me feel for a moment in my body and my soul what the world might be like were some form of social justice or progressive social change or consistent act of real, human love even partially accomplished. The performatives I’m engaging here aren’t iterations of what is but transformative doings of what if. This kind of hope represents an opening up, rather than a closing down, of consciousness of the past and the future in the present.JILL DOLAN, UTOPIA IN PERFORMANCE: FINDING HOPE AT THE THEATER, 2005
I first saw a production written by Marie Clements nearly fifteen years ago, a staged reading of Now Look What You Made Me Do, a text that even as a staged reading I could only describe as kaleidoscopic, a collage of images and relationships, tied together with a central narrative enacted by a mixed-blood female character seeking agency, power, a center. Then as now, I feel that to write a narrative that interprets, theorizes, or explicates a theme or direction in Clements’s work serves mostly to reduce her work, to force that collage of themes and images into a false stability, molded into my own narrative frame. Reid Gilbert, who has written several articles on Clements’s plays, offers a reading of Clements’s work that stems from his concept of “sheer theatricality,” a method that “denaturalizes reception” through avoiding a reading that begins with the stabilizing impulse of marking genre, avoiding the static codes of reception. Gilbert’s [End Page 269] process allows for refraction and reflection, grounded in the idea of the miseen-abyme, the between-mirrors effect, the idea of an image reflected endlessly through or onto mirrors placed opposite each other, an infinite cache of images. Gilbert attempts a Lacanian-Derridean turn with sheer theatricality, “suggesting a kind of ‘writing’ whose text is constructed through a coining of physical and sensory ‘graphemes,’” graphemes that he specifies as composing a “physical and sensory language carried in bodies, sound and apparatus.” “Such writing,” Gilbert continues, “remains dynamic, resisting unitary meaning: as it undulates in and out of various genres and in and out of the various responses of spectators, it exposes its own hybridity, its dialogism. More important, it also harkens far back for citation. By moving to a place before calligraphy and even before orality, it moves to a space without imperial signification.”1
Like Gilbert, I am fascinated by the multiple trajectories of meaning and the complex readings that Clements’s dramaturgy produces, built by a web of image citations, reflecting and accumulating from scene to scene. My interest, however, resides not only in that astounding complexity but also in the political contexts for her work, in all its layers of meaning and images: feminist and indigenous, a liberating and transformative poetics that makes theatre into ceremony—not a New Age, let’s-all-feel-good-and-dance-in-a-circle ceremony but a ceremony of communal power, often women’s communal power, that transcends the material limitations placed on her characters in daily life. It is this merging of a precise political vision and a postmodern practice that fuels my interest in her plays. Although her subject matter is often dark or troubling—domestic violence in Now Look What You Made Me Do, the death and destruction wreaked by uranium mining and atomic bombs in Burning Vision, or the serial murders of Native women in Vancouver’s skid row in The Unnatural and Accidental Women, for example—her plays enact the militant optimism that Dolan describes in the opening epigraph.2 In Clements’s work, this manifests as an authorial standpoint from which women (and sometimes men) regain their agency, restored to a vital mobility from which they can move into a new future and, sometimes, amend the past. Since many of her characters are indigenous, that restoration of agency often means...