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Flip the Script Friday: Henry Beissel, Inuk

I decided to go back to the library, to the same shelf where I found Bone Cage, to see what other treasures it had in store for me. And a treasure I found, in the form of the fantastic fantasy Inuk by Henry Beissel

That’s So Jacob Presents: Flip the Script Friday

Episode #41: Henry Beissel, Inuk

Image Credit: Amazon.com

The Basics

Inuk premiered on 1 August 1973 at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Ontario, Canada. It has also been translated into French, for a six-year run in France by the Compagnie Morisse. According to the author’s preface, the script has also been translated into Bengali, Chinese, German, Hebrew, Japanese, Polish, and Spanish.

Characters

  • Single Characters
    • Inuk, a young hunter.
    • Father
    • Mother
    • Raven, who acts as a narrator.
    • Polar Bear
    • Arctic Fox
    • Sea Monster
    • Spirit of the Caribou
    • Spirit of the Moon (Male)
    • Spirit of the Wind (Male)
    • Spirit of the Dream (Female)
    • Sedna, Goddess of the Sea
    • Spirit of the Ice (Male)
    • Spirit of the Sun (Female)
  • Group Characters (Choruses)
    • Dog Team
    • Musk Oxen
    • Seals
    • Sharks
    • Inuit Villagers

*Note: In the original production, all characters aside from Sedna, the six Spirits, and the group of Inuit Villagers were performed by marionettes.

Setting/Plot

Mythical Inuit Village. It is winter in Inuk’s village, and he and his mother and father are starving. On a hunt, Inuk’s father is killed by a polar bear, giving Inuk the impetus to embark on a quest to find the Spirit of the Sun and bring her back to his village. His quest, tempered by the feuding spirits of the Wind and the Moon, the tricky goddess Sedna, an initially misunderstood Sea Monster, and helped by a silly group of seals, leads him to the Great Hall of the Iceberg, whereupon he meets the spirits of the Ice and the Sun, as well as that of his deceased father. Overall, Inuk learns a lesson about the cycles of the planet and of life.

Major Themes

Men are the Moon, Women are the Sun?

Not so much of a theme, I guess, but an observation, that characters typically seen as female, such as Moon and Wind, are male, and the Sun is female. This interesting subversion is thought-provoking, adding to the mystery of the elements as well as giving them different dimensions. It is also a reminder that this story comes from the indigenous people and, being non-Western, has its own unique backdrop in many ways, including gender roles.

What About the Children?

The back cover quotes Doug Bale of The Free Press, stating “[t]he tale is an admirable blend of fairy tale and poetry that appeals equally to adults and children.” I could easily see this being a children’s play, but one that adults would definitely pay attention to, with the occasional “slightly older” joke in the mix. However, in terms of the main character, Inuk, he is constantly referring to himself as a man, a hunter, while the other characters see him as a boy up until the end. This shows children that even though you may think you are all grown up, you still have some more growing up to do, as do we all. At the end, it is stated that Inuk and the Spirit of the Sun will be “married, but for a short time only,” which makes me feel like Inuk, although not totally grown up, has progressed to a place where he can get married, traditionally a grown-up activity.

Happily Ever After? Not So Fast

This is literally how the play ends, with Sedna, Goddess of the Sea, telling Inuk that he won’t be able to stay married to the Spirit of the Sun forever, and just like everything in life, she will have to return to the Great Hall of the Iceberg every year. Although she is also there at the end, along with Inuk, Sedna’s marriage to the Moon is also in limbo, as the moon and the sea go through changes and phases, just like Inuk and the Sun will. And furthermore, Inuk’s father stays dead, rather than coming back to life. What I like about this is that it shows children a clear message about the life cycle without being disappointing (Inuk’s father leaves him with a message that he is proud of his son, and that he should take care of his mother in his place), but also sparks children’s imagination with further discussion about Inuk, the Sun, Sedna, and the Moon, warranted by their metaphorical marriages, without any scientific information being offered.

My Thoughts

I am so glad I picked Inuk off the shelf. It was an unusual but fun ride, and I do think that it would definitely be a hit with both children and adults. I really like the creativity that it presents – in performance, design, and dramaturgy – and the suggestions that masks or puppets be used as the production sees fit, the more the merrier. Beissel notes that even though it was a mix of marionettes and human actors in the Stratford production, it can be either all puppets or all humans, masks or no masks, and it would still be fine. I like that philosophy; it makes it easier to work with, especially for a low-budget group like a school. I think it could be a pretty killer school play, in fact, rather than the normal, played-out children’s shows like Cinderella and Jack and the Beanstalk and Little Red Riding Hood, and all the rest.

How I’d Flip It

Much like the cover of the book, I’m seeing some sort of tree design, maybe with moveable flats in front of a backdrop that looks like the sun in the sky, but is really the eye of an eagle, symbolizing both endangerment of the environment, and the eagle Jamie nurses back to health and releases into the wild. A lot of what I saw in various production photos included wood or faux-wood logs and stumps as furniture. I’m not sure I would make it super “campfire” but I would definitely accent everything in wood.

For costumes/appearance, I’m thinking a lot of earth tones in sepia and tan, and navy blue. Much of the colors are described by Banks in the text, but one thing I would definitely avoid would be camo; just too stereotypical. I picture Clarence and possibly Jamie in plaid; Chicky in typical “woodsy girl” attire with a t-shirt and jeans; and Krista in some kind of short-sleeve baseball tee with cutoffs. For Kevin, I picture a lot of solid navy blue, and for Robby, a slightly more formal outfit in forest green. Lissa is harder to pin down; in various production photos, she was in a dress and pigtails, but I see her in something a little less frilly, like denim overalls and a pink short, with glasses. The women’s hairstyles are really clear in my mind. I see Chicky with a bleached blond, sculptured buzz cut; Krista in long brown curls, with an updo for the wedding scene; and Lissa with a short bob, almost making a mullet at her ears.

For the wedding scene, obviously the men’s outfits and Krista’s wedding dress are what they are. However, I would see a change for the other two women. The playwright indicates that their dresses are fuchsia, but I would incorporate a different style for each. For Lissa, I would give her more of a little girl look, with a flouncy skirt and a little jacket, as if she is playing dress up, and for Chicky, I see her in an uncharacteristically feminine outfit that is an extreme contrast to her normal attire, with a sweetheart neckline and a structured bodice, but a length that is short enough for her to rock some black biker-y boots. Something to accentuate the fact that even though she is rough, she isn’t one of the guys and is feminine in more than a motherly way.

And finally, as I was reading, the song “Gives You Hell” by All-American Rejects was reverberating in my head, possibly for a video teaser or to appear somewhere in the production.

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Klallam Me Maybe

Those who say you can’t take it with you when you go obviously never met Hazel Sampson.

Three days ago, Hazel Sampson passed away in Port Angeles, Washington at age 103. This is not a surprising occurrence, given that the number of 103-year-olds that are still hanging around is relatively small. However, Sampson’s death is the end of an era. She was the last native speaker of Klallam.

klallammemaybe

 

I hadn’t heard of the Klallam language before today, nor the Klallam people. As it turns out, they are related to the Salish and their territory straddles the borders of the USA and Canada, with communities on Vancouver Island in British Columbia and the Olympic Peninsula in Washington. Like many other Native American languages, Klallam was thought of as inferior to English and survived the government’s attempts at elimination. The 1990s Native American Language Act helped the Klallam cause, gaining the interest of scholars such as University of North Texas professor Timothy Montler, who operates a compelling website for the language. According to Sampson’s obituary, written by Jonathan Kaminsky, the majority of Klallam people today do not speak their language, although due to the dying-out of speakers (Sampson, of course, being the last), has been added to the curriculum at Port Angeles High School.

Language loss is a problem, even in the 21st century. People are beginning to embrace cultures whose members are dying out and trying to recapture days gone by, when the British, French, Americans, et. al., were trying to impress their own culture and drive out anything else. Fragments and even whole books of some languages without native speakers still exist, but it’s not enough to make up for centuries of forced linguistic genocide. I wouldn’t be surprised if several languages die out each year – or each month, for that matter – and Hazel Sampson’s story is no different. Back in 2008, a similar story emerged with the death of Marie Smith Jones of Alaska ending the line of native speakers of Eyak, an indigenous Alaskan language. Even though Eyak is still spoken and taught, it is officially on the list of dead languages – a club in which Klallam is now the newest member.

Just like peoples and cultures die out, I suppose that languages have lives too. Klallam has served its purpose, and now is a language of the heavens, along with millions of others. However much we may have of it, we’ll never have a native speaker, someone who learned it first, before any another language; someone who can compose love songs and secrets; someone to think and to dream in it.

Rest in peace, Hazel Sampson, and rest in peace, Klallam. Or, as Hazel might say,

húy̕ kʷi nəsčáʔčaʔ

(Goodbye, my friend.)

Works Cited

Kaminsky, Jonathan. “Last native speaker of Klallam language dies in Washington state.” Reuters.com. 6 Feb 2014. <http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/02/07/us-usa-klallam-death-idUSBREA1605W20140207&gt;.