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400 Kilometres

by Drew Hayden Taylor

With 400 Kilometres, the final installment of Drew Hayden Taylor’s Someday trilogy, the story of Janice Wirth comes full circle. The trilogy began with Janice, then a baby named Grace Wabung, being plucked from her reserve on Otter Lake, and finishes with her in the house where she was raised in London, Ontario, confronting her past while embracing her impending motherhood. The physical distance between the two places is approximately 400 kilometres; the area that encompasses the emotional and spiritual realms involved is not as easily quantified.

Scenes of Anne, Janice’s birth mother, speaking directly to Janice are interpolated with the bustle of the Wirth household – replete with quick repartee and loaded phrases -– as Janice pays an unexpected visit to Lloyd and Theresa, her adoptive parents. Soon after, Tonto, Janice’s boyfriend and the father of her child, enters the picture, opening several cultural cans of worms.

Using material that could easily become a puerile parody on race relations, Taylor turns out an entertaining piece of theatre that is by turns blatant and subtle. The running joke throughout is the Wirths’ inability to make it to a production of Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra, while Tonto stumbles upon a performance of the play. Taylor draws out the parallels between Shaw’s Cleopatra – a spoiled girl who grows into a mature leader – and Janice’s emerging maturity, and Caesar – whom Shaw portrays as magnanimous and moral – and Tonto. Taylor dabbles with didactics, but chooses levity over heavy-handedness.

There is no question Taylor is a clever playwright who knows how to capitalize on the technical possibilities of theatre. He also has a strong sense of both North American history and the history of the theatre, which he mines throughout the trilogy. As 400 Kilometres deftly demonstrates, the distance between native culture and lore and George Bernard Shaw is even less than that of the play’s title.