On the Road to Petawawa...
Posted 16 December 2015 by Christopher Morris
Vicki and Michael (Christine Horne and Sanjay Talwar) in the production The Road to Paradise, by Human Cargo (2015). (Photo:
Seven years ago I made a trip to Pembroke, Ontario to begin research on The Road to Paradise, a play about how the war was affecting the families of soldiers stationed at CFB Petawawa. It was a great feeling this weekend to return, all these years later, to present that play to the community where it all began.
Plays don’t usually take seven years to create, but this one was unique in the scope of the research, the inclusion of international theatre artists and the desire to get it right. So many people opened their doors, and hearts to us, telling their most personal stories of loss, triumph and perseverance. I always hoped this day would come, when I could finally bring this play back to this community.
"So many people opened their doors, and hearts to us, telling their most personal stories of loss, triumph and perseverance. I always hoped this day would come, when I could finally bring this play back to this community."
Bibi (Cheri Maracle) in the production The Road to Paradise, by Human Cargo (2015). Photo: Chris Gallo
Just last week we closed the show at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre in Toronto. It was a tech-heavy show, presented in the round inside a steel box with a sand-covered floor. This past Saturday, we presented the show at Valour High School in Petawawa, with only the sound and costume design, new blocking to suit the proscenium stage and an ensemble of fearless actors and stage managers.
Our play looks at the effects war is having not only on Canadian military families, but on Taliban families and Afghan immigrants fleeing the war. It is by no means a patriotic, pro-war piece of theatre. For example, there’s a Talib character in our play who makes a direct address to the audience saying “If you think you are supporting the people of Afghanistan, the truth is, you are killing the people of Afghanistan. There is no reason for you to be here. We want you to leave.”
Vicki and Carson (Christine Horne and Andrew Lawrie) in the production
The Road to Paradise, by Human Cargo (2015). Photo: Chris Gallo
During the performance I spent most of the time watching the audience. What do they think about the characters of the Pakistani mother whose 13-year-old son joined the Taliban to become a suicide bomber? The emotion was palpable when the character of the Canadian wife was called by the Army on a Saturday morning, asking where she was and to stay until they came – the phone call that every wife of a soldier dreads. Only one man walked out during the Talib’s direct address, I was concerned there might be more. Concerned that what Jonathan Garfinkel and I wrote was not accurate, potentially insulting. That the portrayal of Canadian military families in my production was inaccurate. Concerned that maybe this audience wouldn’t be interested in the portrayal of all the sides in this conflict.
During the question and answer period with the audience after the show, the actors were asked if it was hard to go through the emotions of the play each night, if Jonathan and I were scared interviewing the Taliban, what we thought of the war. Afterwards, a woman approached and told me that I interviewed her daughter for the play whose husband is suffering greatly from PTSD. She said that her daughter wanted me to know that she couldn’t come to the play tonight, that it was just too hard for her to watch it, but that she sent her mother in her place. She thanked me for bringing the play to Petawawa. I asked her to thank her daughter for sharing her story with us. We cried when we talked about the character in the play who suffers from PTSD, a character heavily based on her son-in-law. Then we had a nice, long hug.
Two hours later, the gym was empty, our van was packed and we drove away.
The Road to Paradise just completed a tour that included shows in Toronto, Pembroke and Ottawa. There are plans to tour it across Canada and to Pakistan in 1½ years from now.