Debaj returns to ruins with ‘Tales from the Sugar Bush’

The cast of ‘Tales of the Sugar Bush’ take a bow following their performance in the Holy Cross Mission Ruins. photos by Michael Erskine

WIIKWEMKOONG—The Debajehmujig Storytellers have returned to the Holy Cross Mission Ruins in Wiikwemkoong for their summer main stage production ‘Tales from the Sugar Bush.’ ‘Tales from the Sugar Bush’ is a collaborative creation that taps deeply into the sweet creative sap of the venerable Indigenous theatre troupe and features both old and new faces among its cast members.

Ashley Manitowabi delivers a tour de force performance as the Mishomis, a grandfather patriarch of an Anishinaabe family returning to the land at the family sugar bush for the first time since losing their grandmother and mother. Mr. Manitowabi used his considerable slight of hand skills to add another “magical” element to his performance.

Sheila Trudeau channels her inner “auntie” to deliver a superb performance of the technophobic aunt. Her interchanges with her nephews brought a classic authenticity to the stage.

Samantha Brennan’s portrayal of the non-Native girlfriend provided a vivid contrast between the traditional small family sugar bush operation and the steady inexorable disconnect from the land and family that comes from building a successful commercial industrial operation.

The supporting cast of Bradleigh Steven Trudeau, Reece Wabegijig, Sheldon Mejaki and Daniel Recollet-Mejaki also played well to the theme of the impediments technology puts in the way of staying connected to the land and the challenges of trying to bridge two worlds.

The stories that make up the “tales” highlight how the sugar bush came to be and the roles it plays in the history and culture of the Anishinaabe.

Oooo, shiny! A piasuk investigates the
glasses of an audience member during the opening of ‘Tales from the Sugar Bush.’

Director Bruce Naokwegijig welded the talents of the cast and crew together in a cohesive whole well suited to the venue, which was as ever a stunning backdrop that tells its own silent story.

The set design and build by Barry Beaver recreates a small family sugar shack nestled deep in the sugar bush maple stands.

Stage manager David (Sonny) Osawabine’s experience was evident in the smooth operation of the various components that complemented the performance.

The cast’s double duty as the playful piasuk, the little people of the Anishinaabe tradition, added a bit of delightful comic relief as they interacted with the audience and utilized the clown skills imparted down through the years of collaboration between Debaj and John Turner’s “Clown Farm,” now the Manitoulin Conservatory for Creation and Performance.

‘Tales from the Sugar Bush’ is being performed at the Holy Cross Mission Ruins in Wiikwemkoong August 9, 10, 11, 15 to 18. Shows all start at 7 pm. Admission is $20 for adults, students and elders $15 and children under 12 $10.