SIX NATIONS — As part of the Onkwehon:we Festival hosted by the Woodland Cultural Centre, the Gathering Place opened its doors to those interested in viewing the work of Playwright Falen Johnson in her play Two Indians.
The work tells the story of the reunion of Roe and Win, two cousins of Mohawk descent that meet up in an alley in Parkdale to watch the moon rise after being apart for years. It is later revealed that Roe separated herself from the reserve after an accident, and the story shows how the two cousins find ceremony and family in one another again.
And for Johnson, this story is highly familial.
“I stole a lot of what makes this story from my own family experience,” said Johnson with a laugh. “I drew from my cousins and how we played when we were kids growing up down here, that was a really big part and still is a very big part in where I get my inspiration.”
“It’s almost as though I don’t have any ideas, I just mine my family for ideas,” she joked.
But it wasn’t just the story that Johnson looked to her family for.
“The characters are Roe and Win, which are kind of unique names but it’s actually my great-grandmothers name,” she said. “Her name was Rose-Winnie and so I just took her two names and made them shorter for the two characters.”
Johnson, who also wrote the acclaimed work Salt Baby, got into theatre after she participated in a high school theatre workshop that put on a show depicting residential school systems in a time when the topic wasn’t explored or spoken about. Since, Johnson has been sharing and producing stories that explore what it is to be indigenous in today’s world on the stage and in writing.
In this play, Johnson tied in the after effects of car accidents.
“I know that car accidents are a thing that happen in our community and happens in a lot of indigenous communities across the country and we know what that effect has on us,” she said. “There is something about having a car accident in a community that is a lot different than having a car accident in the city. I don’t really know what it is but we all understand something about that and we all understand that things often happen in threes.”
The beginnings of the play itself came to be after Johnson was asked to create a short piece based on the Idle No More Movement for the political theatre event Wrecking Ball. The piece has been altered and lengthened to a full one-hour performance and she utilized the work as an outlet for her own stories and feelings.
“It transformed over the course of a couple of years into what it is today,” she said. “I wrote it this way because I wanted a two-hander and two women. This is because I like giving dialogue to women and I like giving text to women, because we don’t have a ton of playwrights in this country to write our stories. So I like to write strong parts for women, good parts for women and good parts for indigenous women.”
And within Two Indians, the dynamic between Win and Roe lapses between shared family nostalgia to emotional accusations and hilarious anecdotes about their pasts with humour and comedic relief being drawn from assumptions made about indigenous people. There are many hidden gems within the comedy for indigenous viewers in particular as well, making it extremely relatable and understandable — something Johnson appreciates.
“I think that the core of most of my pieces is about family,” she said. “It’s about how we make home and I think that home is family and that can be felt anywhere.”
“I think it’s nice because the audience here understands who these women are, in a way that maybe people in Toronto wouldn’t.”