Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Graphic play real story of aboriginal incarceration

  • Print
Tracey Nepinak as Char in a scene from Sarasvati Productions premiere Jail Baby.

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Tracey Nepinak as Char in a scene from Sarasvati Productions premiere Jail Baby. Photo Store

A pregnant aboriginal woman who was born in prison contemplates her depressing fate as she prepares to also give birth to a daughter while behind bars.

Jasmine, the prison-garbed central figure in the gritty comic drama Jail Baby, is resigned to repeating family history: "Born to be in prison. Born a prisoner. I'm just fulfilling my destiny. This is what my mom was wearing when I was born. I'm my mom 18 years later."

Jail Baby, the Sarasvti Productions premi®re penned by artistic director Hope McIntyre and Cairn Moore, seeks to provide context for the over-representation of aboriginal women in the Canadian corrections system. McIntye and Moore, as well as Nan Fewchuk and Marsha Knight, went into western Canadian prisons to question aboriginal women about their surprising status as the fastest growing offender population.

What they found and what makes up the spine of the thought-provoking Jail Baby is a dispiriting short life story of Jasmine, who never had a chance to escape a soul-sapping cycle of dehumanization: neglect, abuse, poverty, discrimination, violence and addictions. The effect in recent years has been to fast-track indigenous women into juvenile and adult detention and more Jasmine mother-daughter loops. They are the most marginalized of the marginalized.

Jail Baby succeeds graphically in presenting the real story as to why aboriginal women are nine times as likely to be incarcerated in their lifetime as any other women. From the time Jasmine (played by Melanie Dean) emerges at birth onto the concrete prison floor, she is more or less left to fend for herself, mothering her mother, used as domestic help in foster homes, as a sexual plaything by the men in her house before drifting into prostitution out of economic necessity.

Intersecting Jasmine's life is Patricia (Daina Leitold), a woman devastated to learn that her father was murdered by two hookers. The killer's accomplice was Jasmine and the two meet for an emotional mediation session. Patricia -- a standup character for the general public -- begins demanding retribution for her loss but eventually softens when she comes face to face with Jasmine.

To lighten the heavy load of social ills on display in Jail Baby, McIntyre and Moore intersperse comedic scenes that comment on the more sober action. They are introduced by a ringmaster (Shannon Guile) who presents circus acts involving the imprisoned women. "Come closer, if you dare," she says. "You'll be amazed, you'll be horrified, You'll be entertained beyond despair."

That's an accurate assessment of Jail Baby. The cruelties that Jasmine endures come across as all too authentic even if the playwrights did not raise the name of Ashley Smith, a teenager who committed suicide in jail in 2007, or play out the segregation cell birth of Julie Bilotta in Ottawa last year.

The parody scenes are more hit and miss. Lives of the Poor and Marginalized hits the comedic mark while The Kangaroo Court scene, with guest lawyer Saul Simmonds playing the judge, goes on too long for too little impact.

Jail Baby is raw and not particularly subtle, sacrificing artfulness to make its important point as powerfully as it can.

Director Ann Hodges deftly handles the quick scene cuts while maintaining an appealing pace and clarity, although some of the jumps from the serious to the wacky are wrenching. The performances are uniformly good but standouts are Tracey Nepinak in numerous roles, Ashley Chartrand as young Jasmine and Melanie Dean as adult Jasmine.

The playwrights raise a lot of crucial questions and wonder where the answers will come from in the absence of any political will in Ottawa to help society's marginalized with anything more than a jail cell. The ringleader delightfully declares, "And now that we are spending millions of dollars on new prisons and increased security, there won't be anything left over for frivolous things like: education, job training and rehabilitation."

kevin.prokosh@freepress.mb.ca

Theatre Review

Jail Baby

Sarasvati Productions

To May 26, at U of W's Asper Centre for Theatre and Film

Tickets: $18, $12 for students and seniors

31/2 stars out of 5

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 18, 2013 G3

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

The Whiteboard - Jets' 5-on-3 penalty kill

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • A red squirrel peaks out of the shade in a tree in East Fort Garry, Sunday, September 9, 2012. (TREVOR HAGAN/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • A young gosling prepares to eat dandelions on King Edward St Thursday morning-See Bryksa 30 Day goose challenge- Day 17- bonus - May 24, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

What's your take on the Jets so far this season?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google