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2018 Fringe Review: Rocko and Nakota: Tales from the Land

Josh Languedoc expertly weaves Indigenous storytelling into the life of a troubled young boy

Nakota is on a quest: he wants to write the greatest story ever for his Grade Six class. Like any hero on a quest, he has an obstacle: Nakota sporadically hyperventilates and faints, and the doctors can’t figure out why.

While Nakota reads Wolverine comics in the hospital, his absent grandfather Rocko visits him to share his own stories: tales from the land, from the oral traditions of Indigenous peoples.

Edmonton-based Anishinaabe playwright and performer Josh Languedoc switches seamlessly between the two titular roles in his 45-minute journey into legends of shapeshifting ravens and giant “elk dogs,” all while taking us on a deeper journey into the scared and confused mind of a young boy.

The action likewise switches between multiple time signatures: the world of stories, Rocko and Nakota in the hospital, and sometime later, as Nakota shares his story — that of the play’s action — to the audience. While it could fall into a trap of over-explaining, this latter narrative gloss instead helps clarify the emotional payoff of Rocko’s visit for the otherwise taciturn Nakota.

Faithfully depicting child characters is a perennial challenge for adult actors. Languedoc starkly contrasts Rocko’s low, elderly voice with Nakota’s squeaky, pre-adolescent timbre. While this contrast helps clarify rapid character transitions, the sameness of Nakota’s speech sometimes distracted from his lines’ emotional content.

Languedoc may instead benefit from assuming a character voice closer to his adult speaking voice, without the high-pitched affectation. To still maintain the character’s distinctness, he could keep Nakota’s nervous mannerisms and diminutive posture.

Apart from this minor performance note, Rocko and Nakota: Tales from the Land is a heartfelt and engrossing storytelling piece from a local playwright on the rise.

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