Theatre review: Peace Country pals face uncertain future in B.C. north

Pedro Chamale’s play examines the struggles resource communities face as they deal with climate change and its economic fallout.

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Peace Country

When: To Oct. 22
Where: Firehall Arts Centre
Tickets and info: From $30 at www.firehallartscentre.ca

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Peace Country, a rice & beans theatre production getting its premiere at the Firehall, is playwright Pedro Chamale’s attempt to provide a window on the struggles resource communities in northern B.C. face as they deal with climate change and the economic fallout that accompanies it.

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The play is also a love letter to the world of his youth.

Peace Country introduces us to a diverse group of friends in a town resembling Chetwynd, where Chamale grew up, at the moment when a fictitious new provincial political party, the B.C. Environmental Alliance (BCEA), is about to take power.

They gather in the town’s beloved coffee shop, the Muffin Break, which is run by Candice (Kaitlyn Yott), an outspoken First Nations woman, and is where they play cards, argue, bait each other affectionately, drink and use the F-word a lot — as comfortable as people can be who have hung out together since childhood.

Candice is all for the new party’s radical environmentalism, in contrast to fellow small businessperson Greg (Angus Yam), who runs his parents’ Chinese restaurant, sits on the town council, and worries about keeping jobs in the community. Goofy, good-natured gay Melissa (Sara Vickruck) works at the local mill. Cynical Alicia (Sofia Rodriguez), daughter of Guatemalan immigrants, says she’s not voting because all political parties are the same, even though her younger sister, Julia (Manuela Sosa), is about to be elected a BCEA MLA.

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The play jumps ahead to a visit by MLA Julia, on parliamentary business, that gives the others a chance to air their grievances about the government’s misunderstanding and neglect of the north, and how its environmental policies are threatening to destroy the region’s economy.

Julia, who left the town years earlier, never quite warms to the reunion with her friends. She remains officious and somewhat distant, arguing the party line that the environmental emergency must trump all other considerations. Her argument is reinforced by the fire threatening the town, amplified by Cindy Kao’s sound design and Andie Lloyd’s video.

Candice is losing her coffee shop because the BCEA shut down the pipeline (and Tim Horton’s opened two blocks over). She speaks the most passionately against condescending cosmopolitan politicians. “I need you to not take the view,” she tells Julia, “that we’re all f–ing idiots up here who don’t see that the world is on fire!”

Chamale, who also directs the production, continually interrupts the present-day action for flashbacks to when the five were children riding their bikes and high schoolers drinking on their way to a bush party. Both scenes contain amusing moments, and we learn some things about the characters: The sisters don’t get along, and they all — especially Julia — drink way too much.

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We get more information from the monologue each character is given. But these scenes exist mostly for their texture, the nostalgic memories Chamale has of being young and romping with his friends in their familiar world. Think American Graffiti with really big trees.

The acting is solid all the way through. I particularly liked Yott’s Candice and Yam’s Greg, but it’s best to think of them as an ensemble, a group of people bonded by friendship, experience and environment who don’t hesitate to help each other when the going gets tough as it tends to, more often than not, in Peace country.

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