March 28, 2013

Enduring racism in Café Daughter

'Cafe Daughter' Chronicles Canadian Insitutionalized Racism in the Mid-20th Century

By Alex JacobsNinety minutes of compelling story, an astounding performance of 12 characters by one amazing actress, great script and art direction, many painful truths and a pile of tear-soaked tissues. That’s what you’ll get investing your time, energy, emotions, and ticket price in Gwaandak Theatre’s production of Café Daughter.

Written by Cree playwright Kenneth T. Williams, Café Daughter tells the story of Yvette Wong, a Chinese-Cree girl growing up in rural Saskatchewan in the 1950s and ‘60s. The play--in effect, a one-woman show--was presented at the Talking Stick Festival in Vancouver, British Columbia, with actress PJ Prudat portraying Yvette and another 11 characters. Café Daughter was directed by Yvette Nolan.

Prudat, who is of Cree, Salteaux, French, Scandinavian and Metis heritage, more than pulls off the entire play, owning both the story and the stage, drawing the audience in. When the story begins, Yvette is a bright, ten-year-old girl who dreams of being a doctor, but because she is not white she is put in the class for slow learners. After the play, which depicts Yvette’s long journey through and struggle against institutional racism, the audience left happy, fulfilled and spent.

The story was inspired by Dr. Lillian Eva Quan Dyck, and contains many truths, both historical and personal, about her life--but it’s also about so many other just plain folks who endured the racism and prejudice of those times. The history goes back 100 years, but it feels very recent, and while the script is up-North Canada, similar laws also existed in the US to protect the virtue of white women from immoral minorities.
Comment:  For more on Native theater, see Time-Traveling Mission Play and Distant Thunder Read in NYC.

Below:  "In 'Cafe Daughter,' PJ Prudat depicts a Chinese-Cree girl from the age of 10 onward."

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