Reservations, by Steven Ratzlaff, is a two-part theatre production that presents local issues in an intimate and simple setting. The first story is about an old farmer who wishes to donate his land to the Siksika Nation, but his daughter is unsupportive of his decision to gift-away her inheritance. The second story is about two foster parents in a dispute with the Child & Family Services agency responsible for their three Aboriginal children.
I was quite impressed (and surprised) by the simplicity of this play, as both acts involved just three actors conversing and arguing on stage. My expectations of theatre led me to believe that plays need to be an elaborate display in order to capture an audience’s imagination and attention. Reservations, however, had my attention because of the subject matter and the excellent acting by Steven Ratzlaff, Sarah Constible, and Tracey Nepinak.
Overall, I think the issues presented in Reservations are important discussions and I appreciate using theatre as a way to discuss them. Each act presented two sides to an issue and I felt that I could relate to the plights of each character. It definitely felt like there was a right, or more just side in each matter (rather than complete neutrality), but the other side displayed natural human reactions to the issues and I empathized with those characters.
The first act worked really well on stage. It was very simple, having mostly been an argument around a kitchen table, but the performances held the audience’s attention, and the topics of entitlement and giving back were interesting. The second act didn’t work as well as the first. It again centred around an argument, but about one third of the play was delivered as a university lecture to the audience, and I don’t think it worked at all. Theatre’s job is to entertain and hold the audience’s attention, and that section of the second act did not succeed in this endeavour. The lecture was quite long, and though I felt a bit of nostalgia for my days as a philosophy student, I was reminded of how often I would tune out during those lectures. I also couldn’t help but think there were better ways to deliver the message Ratzlaff was trying to convey, and ultimately the second act is weaker than the first.
The dialogue is well-written, though at times in the second act the conversations felt a bit pretentious and preachy—the lines sounded a bit too intelligent, and felt unnatural. I didn’t give much thought to the costumes, music or set design, but all of which reflected the simplicity of this production. I will make special mention to the projection-style images used as the background set. I thought those were well done and added to the show.
One other interesting thing about Reservations is neither act has a resolution, they simply end after both sides of each argument are presented. I think this is important in trying to remain neutral, and letting the audience interpret for themselves how it would end, but I can also see how this lack of resolution might not sit well with some.
At the end of Reservations the actors, director, and others involved with the production did a talkback session so that the audience could ask some questions about the play. The session didn’t add much to the experience, in part because most questions asked weren’t great, but also because Ratzlaff didn’t have much to say. Most questions directed at him were about interpretations, or the audience’s understanding of certain elements, to which Ratzlaff simply acknowledged their opinion but did not provide his own. I understand that from his perspective, any interpretation made by the audience is their own and he wouldn’t say someone was wrong, but it would have been enlightening to hear his thoughts of the characters or themes.
I’ve always liked theatre, but I’d never considered seeing a show like this before. Having witnessed one now, I do think theatre is an interesting way to portray very real issues in our community. I don’t think that Reservations presented anything new necessarily, but I do think it forces audiences to think of issues that are largely ignored by our society, and I see value in that.