Only Drunks and Children Tell the Truth: How much fresh light does this revered play shine?

The Firehall Arts Centre is producing Only Drunks and Children Tell the Truth

Janice (Chelsea Rose Tucker) and Barb (Ashley Chartrand) ‘working their differences out’. (Photo by Emily Cooper)

This is a guest review from Deneh’Cho Thompson.

The Firehall Arts Centre first brought Drew Hayden Taylor’s Only Drunks and Children Tell the Truth to Vancouver in 1997, and now it’s back.

Only Drunks and Children Tell the Truth follows a pair of sisters as they grapple with the death of their mother. The difficulty: they were separated as children during the Sixties Scoop, a period in which governmental organizations stole thousands of aboriginal children from their families and placed them in the foster care system. The effects of these forced adoptions are still playing out across Canada.

Janice (Chelsea Rose Tucker) was adopted out as a baby and has only once had contact with her biological family. Barb (Ashley Chartrand) is her estranged sister and the final caretaker of their mother. The first act takes place in Janice’s big-city condo, the second in the family home back on the reserve. The play is simply, or not so simply, the encounter of these two disparate worlds and the family and cultural cleavages created by the Sixties Scoop.

This production of Only Drunks and Children Tell the Truth is about legacy: the legacy of Firehall’s artistic director Donna Spencer directing the 1997 production; the legacy of this version being directed by Columpa C. Bobb, who appeared in the production two decades ago as Barb; and of course, the legacy of these tragic adoptions. Legacy is certainly alive on stage: several images in this production resemble old production stills found on Drew Hayden Taylor’s website. But, even with all the important connections in this production, I was left not quite satisfied.

Dramatically, the play creates a lot of conflict, but I was never curious about what that conflict would lead to. The story is too familiar to me, the drinking, the bright comedy as a counterpoint to the dark story, and the reconciliation scene at the end of the play all feel dated to me. This play was essential in the 90s, it broke open discussions that were not happening on our stages, and even now it is essential viewing for anyone that is doing Sixties Scoop 101, but this play doesn’t feel like it is aimed at me. I guess that’s okay.

Let me say, there are a few great reasons to see this play. Bryan Kenney’s set is very nice to look at, if a little bit limiting for the actors. At times the clown duo of Rodney and Tonto, played by Braiden Houle and Chris Cound, land knee deep in poignant sincerity. But Chelsea Rose Tucker is reason number one to see this show. Her performance is the anchor that the show revolves around, her most compelling moments coming when we have fewer characters and fewer design elements to distract from us from the grounded performance she offers.

ONLY DRUNKS AND CHILDREN TELL THE TRUTH By Drew Hayden Taylor. Directed by Columpa C. Bobb. Presented at Firehall Arts Centre on Wednesday, November 15. Continues until December 2. 

Get your tickets here.

About Colin Thomas

Colin Thomas is a Vancouver-based editor, an award-winning playwright, and an established theatre critic. Colin helps writers unlock the full potential of their novels, short stories, screenplays, and children's books.

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