The experience of walking out of Deneh’Cho Thompson’s The Girl Who was Raised by Wolverine is unsettling and difficult—and every Canadian should do it.
I’ve wanted to see this show for almost a year. Full disclosure: I worked for the Vancouver Fringe Festival until leaving for a position at the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival recently. As a candidate for the Fringe Festival’s New Play Prize, I saw a summary of Thompson’s play on my desk last year. When it won the prize—including a free spot on the Fringe Mainstage and eight months of dramaturgy with the Playwrights Theatre Centre—my job was to prepare early marketing and publicity materials for the show. Many Fringe shows don’t have anything to provide until closer to the Festival, but Thompson was able to provide information for me early on because of the New Play Prize process. So I’ve known this was going to be an extraordinary show for awhile. Working in the arts is bittersweet at times: to know about what is coming, but to not be able to see it for often a year or more.
The Girl Who was Raised by Wolverine is a dystopic future. In some ways its speculative elements are not unlike Larissa Lai’s Salt Fish Girl. Vancouver’s resources are depleted, overpopulation is destroying the environment, and corporations govern. While Salt Fish Girl is Asian diaspora, rich with Chinese mythology and cultural lore, The Girl Who was Raised by Wolverine is based in First Nations storytelling and narrated by the trickster Wolverine.
To deal with overpopulation, the government instates a culling: one person in three will be killed for “the greater good.” The protagonist Stephanie (Tai Amy Grauman) has been confined by the state since she was a child, holding onto memories of her mother and father. She is isolated and alone in confinement until Wolverine (Jessica Hood and John Cook) appears.
Stephanie’s mixed blood from her European mother and First Nations father is a source of healing medicine for the upper classes who are dying of a mysterious disease. She relives her memories of her parents onstage to decide which one will be sacrificed in the culling. It’s an impossible choice between races, cultures, and a child’s love for her parents.
And here’s the thing: in the end, the trickster asks the audience to decide who is sacrificed by vote when they exit the theatre.
“Can we get out of the theatre another way?” asks someone behind me as the crowd moves to the door.
It’s a choice nobody wants to make, but that’s Thompson’s point. Choices have been made regarding First Nations people and all Canadians for decades. It’s time we take the lives and traumas of First Nations people into our our own hands. Gabor Mate, a Canadian doctor, speaker, and author on addiction, stress, and child development writes, “When some among us suffer, ultimately we all do.”
Thompson has written a play that speaks to our generation: it’s a call for all of us to take action.