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Only Drunks and Children Tell the Truth

by Drew Hayden Taylor

In one sense, Only Drunks and Children Tell the Truth is about the psychological consequences of the “scoop up,” or the taking of native children for adoption in white society. But behind the generalized clash of cultures – revealed in an appealing blend of comedy and drama – there is a specific story of two sisters finding a way to each other through great turmoil.

A sequel to Someday, which focused on a brief, ill-fated reunion between Anne and her long-lost daughter Grace (renamed Janice by her adopted family), Only Drunks sets up a reunion between Janice and her blood-sister, Barb, who comes to Toronto to convince her sister to return to Otter Lake and pay her last respects to their recently deceased mother. With boyfriend Rodney, a wisecracking but shrewd trickster, and his adopted brother, Tonto, a man of gnomic epigrams and some flippancy, Barb arrives at her sister’s upscale condo apartment and discovers that despite material success (represented by her fur coat, Saab, and art collection), Janice is an emotional mess because she is trapped between two cultures.

Barb and the two men coerce her into returning to Otter Lake where Janice discovers, in the course of an alcohol-sodden dialogue with her sister, her true bond with her blood-family. When she receives the dreamcatcher left for her by her late mother, Janice seeks forgiveness for the ill feelings she has created and, tired of being angry at the past, she ends the play on a note of hopeful reconciliation.

While it is true, as Lee Maracle notes in the foreword, that Taylor “remains tender toward the society which has created the horror of loss,” the play lacks subtlety. Indeed, it appears to have been hastily composed, for the dialogue is often joltingly ingenuous or boldly proclamatory. Characters are obvious types (trickster, sage, mediatrix, victim) who are not given the scope to expand in our imagination.