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Theatre Review: Canada, It’s Complicated Offers Entertaining but Important Look at Nation’s Past

Canadian treasure Mary Walsh has done her fellow citizens a tremendous favour by bringing her comedic masterpiece, Canada, it’s Complicated to The Fredericton Playhouse. With a determination to reveal that life in Canada is not as charming as we often depict, she skillfully employs satire to compel the audience to accept its part in a complex and unfair past.

Perched in the vibrant centre of downtown Fredericton, The Playhouse is a welcoming venue to display professional performing arts shows. Upon arrival, I was greeted by courteous ushers and escorted to my seat among a sea of velvety red chairs. The room was filled with a diverse crowd and almost every age group could be accounted for: young families, elderly couples and university friends all anticipated the show in unison. As the lights began to dim, Mary Walsh’s spunky voice thundered around us and hurriedly squished Canada’s complicated past into about thirty seconds, ending with the phrase “Now you know Canada’s history, get ready for us to make fun of it.” A great start indeed.  

The show is made up of short, satirical skits and musical numbers that lead the audience through a candid history of Canada’s reputation, division and internal relations. Ranging from a rap battle between Metis leader Louis Riel and former Prime Minister Sir John A. MacDonald, a game show parody titled “Trick or Treaty” and a history lesson with a painfully naïve teacher, the laughter is constant and hard lessons are guaranteed.  Told from a refreshing perspective, white western settlers are no longer glorified as heroes, but instead exposed as arrogant and largely ignorant trespassers on Indigenous land.

The cast’s skill in bringing the scenes to life and portraying tangible emotions immediately demanded respect from the audience. Their ability to embody a variety of characters ensured that spectators were engaged and could keep up with the flow of an otherwise fast-paced plot.  

The two stand-out performers of the show were Jamie Pitt and Dakota Hebert. Pitt had the audience keeling over in wild laughter as she dominated the stage in her portrayal of various foolish European settlers that viewers loved to hate. She possessed an often rare ability to use comedic talent while exposing uncomfortable truths of our nation’s past—all without isolating viewers or making them defensive. Hebert served as the steady voice of reason throughout the show. Her role as a young Indigenous girl struggling to come to terms with her identity gave the show some context, and brought to light the necessity that our country accepts its flawed past and move toward true unification.

The various skits were woven together using projected video as a background. This brought a playful atmosphere to the performance and was essential in orienting the audience to the time period and location of its characters.

As the show came to a close, I experienced what turned out to be my favourite part of the evening. While the characters preached to the audience about moving forward with cooperation in mind, a scan of the crowd was projected onto the background screens. This drove home the message: it is our responsibility to avoid the mistakes that were just uncovered, and to take ownership of how we want Canada to be in the future. I would highly recommend this show to everyone, regardless of age, as it is an extremely entertaining way to learn about our country and its history.

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