Burning Vision

Written by:

Marie Clements

Artist/Creator(s) Identify As:

Indigenous

Cast Size:
17

Roles For:

  • Men: 12
  • People of Colour: 4
  • Women: 5

Genre:

Drama
Indigenous Theatre

Themes:

Canadian History
History
Indigenous
Japanese-Canadian
Memory
Natural Resources
Nature
Non-Linear Narrative
Race
Surrealism
Time
War
World War II

Length:

100 min.

Synopsis:

Burning Vision unmasks both the great lies of the imperialist power-elite and the seemingly small rationalizations and accommodations people of all cultures construct to make their personal circumstances yield the greatest benefit to themselves for the least amount of effort or change on their part.

Characters:

The Dene Seer – a Dene medicine man who sang four see-er songs over a long night. Late 188os. Voice-over.

Little Boy – a beautiful Native boy. Eight to ten years old. The personification of the darkest uranium found at the center of the earth.

Fat Man – An American bomb test dummy manning his house in the late 1940s and 50s. He gets more and more human as the bombs draw closer. Unlikeable in a likeable way. In his forties.

Round Rose – An aged Iva Toguri who works in her father’s Japanese souvenir store in Chicago, still waiting for an apology by the U.S. government for her prosecution as ‘Tokyo Rose,’ a propaganda radio personality that aired ‘zero hour’ broadcasts during the Second World War. Her ‘on air’ personality seen as the exotic Japanese geisha girl by American G.I.s. In reality, an almost homely Japanese-American student that went to UCLA and believed herself to be American before and after anything else.

The Widow – An older Dene women that keeps a fire of love for her dead Dene ore carrier husband.

Rose – A Metis woman in her twenties who walks between Native and non-Native lines as she works in the North at her father’s Hudson’s Bay Store. A bread-maker and a dreamer looking for her place.

Koji – A Japanese fisherman just before the blast of the atomic bomb. His spirit holds on to a cherry branch of hope until he transforms himself to the other side of the world.

The Radium Painter – A beautiful American 1930s radium dial painter looking for the answers to the glow and death of her life.

Captain Mike – Captain of the Radium Prince for over thirty years. A barge that transported the uranium on the road to the atom. Icelandic. Late forties to fifty years old (v.o.).

The Japanese Grandmother – The slow march motion of a grandmother’s hope for her grandson’s survival after dropping the bomb (double cast).

The Bros. Labine – The two brother prospectors that discovered uranium at the base of Great Bear Lake in the 1930s. Thirty-ish (double cast).

The Two Stevedores – Native boat pilots that worked navigating the boats of ore down the waters (double cast).

Dene Ore Carrier – The widow’s husband that emerges from the fire in her dreams and ultimately joins the long line of Dene ore carriers as she is able to let go of him into the next world (double cast).

Radio Announcers / Lorne Greene slash Voice of Doom / Radio Announcer for CBC’s National Bulletin – A voice that so characterized the bad news of World War II in Canada that it became known as the ‘voice of doom’ / Slavey Announcers – Community members that broadcast in the North trying to find and reach out over the air for loved ones, a call and response from this world to the spirit world. / Tokyo Rose – A 1940s radio siren that embodied the erotic fantasies of U.S. Army men in the Pacific War ofWorld War II. In this case, the radio announcer is Round Rose, an older somewhat bitter version of the myth that broadcasts her view from the back storeroom of her father’s store.

Resources:

Burning Vision is available through Talonbooks.

Burning Vision can be accessed at the Canadian Play Outlet.

Notes:

Japan Literary Award, George Ryga Literary Award Nominee, Governor General’s Award Finalist, Jessie Richardson Theatre Award Nominee

Featured Play Category:

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Lisa's Picks

Selection Notes:

I remember reading this play in my undergrad and being shocked and impressed at how much theatre could do and be. This was a far cry from the kitchen sink dramas I had already (naively) decided formed the bulk of contemporary Canadian theatre. Far from the confines of the kitchen, Burning Vision travels across the globe and through time, offering a complex portrait of interconnectedness, shared trauma, and shared responsibility for healing. Fifteen years after it premiered in Vancouver and the subject matter is still, sadly, “of the moment” as we wrestle with climate change and isolationist politics. Requiring a diverse cast to fill parts such as the Dene Seer and Tokyo Rose, and requiring a flexible space so it can be staged in the round, there is no doubt that this play can be challenging. But it is challenging in the best sense of the term, in that it is full of possibilities and invites creative minds in to tackle the important challenges of our day. - Lisa

The play reading experience that excites me most is one that transports me to a different universe, one I haven't been to before, one with its own atmosphere. In that unfamiliar atmosphere I have to learn to breathe differently, sense differently. Marie Clements' Burning Vision may be the best example of this I know of in Canadian theatre. It takes us on a imaginative journey that invents its own rules about time, space, character. It challenges us to imagine the intimate interconnectedness of actions that span continents and centuries. It asks us to imagine how the exploitation of resources, of people, over here, can serve the nefarious causes of those seemingly distant over there. That feels like such an important thing to dwell on in our time, but I can't imagine a future where it will seem less relevant. Such an important play. -Barry.