by Shelley Pearen
OTTAWA—What do Nanabush and Jesus, warrior Tommy Prince and a talking buffalo all have in common? They’re all characters in plays written by the renowned playwright and director Alanis King of Wikwemikong.
Ms. King launched her book ‘3 Plays’ in Ottawa on September 29. ‘3 Plays’ actually is three plays: ‘If Jesus Met Nanabush,’ ‘The Tommy Prince Story,’ and ‘Born Buffalo.’
Alanis King and her plays are familiar to many Manitoulin residents and visitors. I’ve enjoyed her work since the early 1990s with the Debajehmujig productions of ‘If Jesus Met Nanabush,’ ‘The Manitoulin Incident’ and ‘The Tommy Prince Story.’ Like many others in the audience I left those memorable productions thoughtful and wanting more. Two decades later my wish has been granted with the release of three of her plays in book form.
Despite the launch of ‘3 Plays’ being held on a very wet and stormy night in the nation’s capital, the reading room of Octopus Books on Bank Street was filled with enthusiastic readers. Some like myself were familiar with Ms. King’s earlier projects. Others had heard her interview on CBC radio and were inspired to attend, and some of the audience were from Wikwemikong and present to greet and support her.
Alanis King is from Wikwemikong. She is the daughter of writer and educator Dr. Cecil King whose book ‘Balancing Two Worlds, Jean-Baptiste Assiginack and the Odawa Nation 1768-1866’ I reviewed and highly recommended in an article in the Manitoulin Expositor in October 2013.
Alanis credits her creativity to growing up in Wikwemikong surrounded by music, dance and storytelling. Not only has she has embraced her people’s traditions and stories but she has a magical manner of sharing them with Natives and Non-Natives alike.
The launch of ‘3 Plays’ featured readings from each of the plays by Alanis followed by an interview conducted by Doris Peltier of Wikwemikong and Montreal.
Ms. King immediately captured the audience by describing a 20-year-old Jesus meeting Nanabush at a powwow. Jesus asks: ‘Does dancing like that always make you sweat?’ Nanabush answers: ‘Only if I really like the song.’ The reading continued with what has been described as a ‘thought-provoking and often hilarious cosmological First Contact story.’
The second reading was from ‘The Tommy Prince Story.’ Tommy or Thomas George Prince was a Saulteaux who became Canada’s most-decorated Aboriginal war veteran, receiving 11 medals in the Second World War and the Korean War. Sadly, Tommy died homeless in Winnipeg in 1977. Ms. King reveals Tommy’s life through the voices of ‘old Tommy’ and ‘young Tommy.’
The third play in the collection is ‘Born Buffalo’ a magical tale of fraternal twins at a zoo who encounter a talking buffalo, Meshe. Meshe recognizes the twins as Anishnaabe and with her plea “Get me outta here!’ an adventure begins for the twins and probably the reader.
All three readings were thought-provoking and humorous which in any other hand might have been an unusual combination but judging by the readings the author has professionally blended the two sentiments. All three plays share the theme of hope: spiritual, personal, and cultural respectively.
The readings were followed by an interview conducted by Doris Peltier of Wikwemikong and Montreal. Ms. Peltier commented on and enquired about Ms. King’s use of humour, about tackling difficult subjects, as well as the characters, language, and storytelling.
The formal portion of the launch was concluded with questions from the audience. Questions varied from wanting to know the author’s favourite play or character, to her previous experience as an actor and playwright. Many in the audience chuckled when someone asked if ‘The Manitoulin Incident’ had been a UFO sighting.
Watch for my review of ‘3 Plays: If Jesus Met Nanabush, The Tommy Prince Story, and Born Buffalo’ in an upcoming edition of the Expositor. Meanwhile you can purchase your own copies in the near future from the Expositor’s bookshop.
Shelley Pearen is the author of ‘Four Voices The Great Manitoulin Island Treaty of 1862’ and ‘Exploring Manitoulin.’ She is a volunteer history specialist and occasional book reviewer for the Expositor.