I got out today to follow up on a desire to see Beyond Eden, a play by Bruce Ruddell. The desire was spawned by a write up that hailed the play as a good play to see, perhaps the play to see this season. This review was also backed up by my mother-in-law, whose opinion on such matters I respect a great deal. Being a musical, I wondered about how it would deal with the presentation of such a weighty matter of the removal of the totems of Haida Gwaii.
It moved me the way that I would hope that a piece of theatre would, like my insides were given a shake. The struggle of Lewis with the removal of the poles was something that resonated with any audience member that was paying attention. The value of bringing the poles, or any cultural artifact, to a museum for display versus leaving them in their natural environment is something that is continually considered. The play gives the audience this to consider, reminds us that this debate is not over and does not end with a morally tidy answer to leave the audience feeling good about the final outcome or decision. Lewis remains on-stage, kneeling, alone, still facing the anguish that has tormented him for the duration of the play.
The music and staging gives voice to every character and places them in a position to have their own issues with the task of removing the poles. While each one entered into the voyage with their own reasons, all demonstrate a change toward what began as such a clear goal when they left Victoria.
Without its successful conveyance of controversy, this play would not present such a clear irony as it is part of Vancouver’s cultural Olympiad. From the beginning, the organizers of the 2010 Winter Olympics appropriated whatever symbol they wanted to use to represent the games, which begot the Inukshuk Controversy and the debates of the appropriateness of many of the images used to promote the games. The questions that the play raises about act of cultural preservation should be directed at the same people responsible for using Canadian First Nations’ symbolism to further the appeal of a consumerist sporting event.
It seems that we have not come a long way in dealing with this conundrum, this paradox of archaeology. If we do not preserve cultural artifacts, they will not gain any sort of appreciation or awareness in the public eye. However, to do so removes the artifact from the cultural context that it was an integral part of. Beyond Eden does an amazing job of reminding us of this, as well as hold Canada’s own dominant culture up for closer evaluation.