Vancouver Theatre: Frozen River shows children a path to reconciliation

The playwrights do a good job of making sophisticated arguments relatively digestible for young audiences, avoiding heaviness in placing responsibility and assigning blame

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Frozen river (nîkwatinsîpiy)

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When: As of October 16.

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Where: Waterfront Theatre, Granville Island.

Tickets & Info: $18 to $35 at

Reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians will never happen in a meaningful way until today’s youth, when they take over the world, understand better than the rest of us where we went wrong and what we need to do to make things right.

Manitoba Theater for Young People’s Frozen River (nîkwatinsîpiy) aims to help kick-start this understanding. Vancouver Carousel Theater for Youth advertises the game as suitable for ages 5 and up. In theatrical language aimed at tweens and youngsters, it dramatizes the schism that reconciliation is meant to heal. The two young protagonists illustrate how recovery may be possible and how difficult it is likely to be.

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In front of designer Andrew Moro’s large circular decor which serves both as a moon and as a screen for the shadow figures and projections, Grandma Moon (Krystle Pederson) explain that a long time ago two girls were born and grew up together in Cree territory that will eventually become Manitoba: Wâpam (Keely McPeek) to a Cree family and Eilidh (Mallory James) to a family of settlers from Scotland.

Although at the beginning Wâpam only speaks Cree and Eilidh only English, the girls learn to understand each other. Wâpam teaches Eilidh which local plants are safe to eat. She teaches Eilidh’s little sister (a puppet) how to make snares to trap small animals for food. The girls bond and promise to spend a winter with each other’s families when the river freezes over.

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But Eilidh, convinced of the superiority of her culture, backsliding little by little on his promise and on Wapam. “Why can’t you be like us,” she asks. Friendship ends.

Krystle Pederson as Grandmother Moon in Frozen River, playing at the Waterfront Theater on Granville Island through October 16.
Krystle Pederson as Grandmother Moon in Frozen River, playing at the Waterfront Theater on Granville Island through October 16. Photo by Leif Norman /Courtesy of Manitoba Theater for Young People

Grandmother Moon then takes us forward seven generations, where the descendants of Eilidh and The Wâpam, who also share a birthday, attend the same high school but live in two solitudes. The non-Aboriginal girl is outraged that the pipes in her suburban home have been frozen for four days. When the native girl explains that her reservation hasn’t had clean water for 18 years, the other is shocked at the beginning of an understanding, and perhaps a change of heart.

The three actors are charming. Playwrights Michaela Washburn, Joelle Peters and Carrie Costello have done a good job of presenting sophisticated arguments that are relatively digestible for young audiences and avoiding heaviness by placing responsibility and assign blame. Director Katie German introduces visuals, including the child puppets and a turtle puppet, to help liven up the scene.

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But Frozen River relies more on dialogue with less theatrical spectacle than most plays aimed at young audiences. I saw it the day after National Truth and Reconciliation Day with my five and eight year old granddaughters. Two days earlier, they attended a school assembly where the meaning of the holiday was explained. I wondered what they would do with the room.

They were attentive for the full 65 minutes, with even the five-year-old playing for the first time. They understood the dynamics of friendships, thought it was cool that the girls had the same birthday, and were fascinated by the projections and the puppets. JCulture clashes seemed beyond them for now, but we all enjoyed being nudged toward a brighter future by clever entertainment.

  1. A scene from Frozen River.  The Carousel Theater for Young People opens its 2022-23 season with the West Coast premiere of Manitoba Theater for Young People's award-winning play at the Waterfront Theater on Granville Island from September 28 to October 16.

    Frozen River aims to unfreeze relations between generations

  2. Peter Pan is bad.

    Theater Critic: Peter Pan Goes Wrong Succeeds Nearly Everything

  3. The Firehall Arts Center at 380 E. Cordova St. in Vancouver.

    Fire station at 40: always at the cutting edge of creativity

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