At first, I was not in the groove of Little Red Warrior and His Lawyer — and I was content to think, “Okay, maybe this wasn’t written for me.” Other people were laughing up a storm, including the row of Indigenous folks in front of me — so maybe I just wasn’t getting it. But Little Red Warrior and His Lawyer is so relentlessly irreverent and surprising that it wasn’t long before I succumbed. For the majority of the show, I was grinning my face off.
Written and directed by Kevin Loring of the Nlaka’pamux Nation in a style that he says owes a lot to his people’s Trickster stories, Little Red Warrior and His Lawyer is about Little Red, the last surviving member of the Little Red Warrior First Nation. When he finds a developer ripping up his ancestral land to build luxury lakeside townhouses, Little Red pops the guy in the head with a shovel — and ends up with a court-appointed lawyer named Larry. Larry invites Little Red to stay at his place while he’s in the city and Larry’s lawyer wife Desdemona sets her erotic and cultural sights on their new guest: “I want to see the world the way you see it.”
Like I said, the beginning was bit rough for me. Little Red stereotypes Larry: “You drive a black Vulva.” Volvo. Out of the gate, this did not strike me as hilarious. Larry threatens Little Red with the “penal love” of the prison system. Call me sensitive, but homophobic jokes are not my favourites. (The script eventually rights this boat, sort of, but not until after damage has been done.)
Then Loring’s script either got wittier or I finally started to catch on. When Larry tells Desdemona that Little Red is the last of his people, she looks at him, puzzled, and asks, “So you’re interested in endangered aboriginals?” And, when an exasperated Larry tells her, “This is a family we’re talking about, not a mutating colony of parasites!”, she asks, “What’s the difference?” This works partly because of the pace Loring has established as a director and the pinwheel of mayhem he has created as a writer. As Little Red’s case works its way to the Supreme Court, Larry (Shekhar Paleja) and Desdemona (Luisa Jojic) dance their arguments. This is nuts — and inspired. Jojic is a great dancer and, throughout, she is fervently dedicated to the illogic of her character. A lot of the script’s best digs are at the expense of Desdemona’s wannabe Indigineity.
There was still one major bump for me: when Desdemona is first hitting on Little Red, she is so aggressive and he is, apparently, so scared that it looks like sexual intimidation. Given the script’s earlier reference to the abuses of the so-called residential school system, this is uncomfortable to watch, especially since it’s being played for laughs. If there’s a thematic point being made, it wasn’t defined enough for me to get it. I’m fine with discomfort; this section just felt muddy to me.
Still, I mostly had a very good time. The entire cast is strong. Sam Bob, who’s playing Little Red, is a big guy — and, in a nice twist, he makes the character coy. Shekhar Paleja polishes up Larry’s exasperated straight-man function. And, playing the unhoused person who narrates the show as well as a number of other characters, with his trademark affability, Kevin McNulty comes across as an unhinged version of the Stage Manager from Our Town.
There’s a fifth person in the cast. I’m not going to tell you what Nick Miami Benz does, but it’s worth the price of admission.
LITTLE RED WARRIOR AND HIS LAWYER Written and directed by Kevin Loring. Jointly produced by Savage Society and Belfry Theatre in collaboration with National Arts Centre Indigenous Theatre. Running at The Cultch’s York Theatre until March 13. Tickets
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