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Sam Bob and Shekhar Paleja star in Kevin Loring's Little Red Warrior and His Lawyer.The Cultch

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  • Title: Little Red Warrior and His Lawyer
  • Written by: Kevin Loring
  • Director: Kevin Loring
  • Actors: Sam Bob, Shekhar Paleja, Luisa Jojic, Kevin McNulty, Nick Miami Benz
  • Company: Savage Society and Belfry Theatre in collaboration with the National Arts Centre Indigenous Theatre
  • Venue: York Theatre
  • City: Vancouver
  • Until: March 13, 2022

An Indigenous person – the last of his tribe – living on his own in the forest is shocked when he encounters developers on his land. And he is angry. So angry that Little Red (Sam Bob) takes a shovel to the head of a construction engineer. He ends up in trouble with the law – not just for assault, but also trespassing. A court-appointed lawyer, Larry (Shekhar Paleja), takes on the case. The privileged, suit-wearing, Volvo-driving settler sees an opportunity for a land claims case.

But then things go in unexpected directions. And not just the expected unexpected directions.

Kevin Loring’s Little Red Warrior and His Lawyer goes far beyond the predictable. It is not earnest. It is irreverent and then some. It is very funny. It surprises, entertains, makes you laugh, makes you think. Takes you into another world that has a lot to say about the one we live in.

Little Red Warrior and His Lawyer was written and directed by Loring, a member of the Nlaka’pamux Nation from the Lytton First Nation in B.C., a Governor-General’s Literary Award winner (for Where the Blood Mixes) and the inaugural Artistic Director of Indigenous Theatre at the National Arts Centre. The play had its world premiere at the Belfry in Victoria in February, and is now playing at the Cultch’s York Theatre in Vancouver. Thanks to the pandemic, the play was published before it was produced.

The show begins on a magnificent treed set, with Floyd (Kevin McNulty), a fourth wall-breaking storyteller, pushing a shopping cart – and some hard-earned wisdom. He offers up a story that begins with a road that has been cut through Little Red’s forest, like a scar.

Nothing is sacred in this land-claims comedy – not even Little Red. The skewering is indiscriminate and universal. There is Larry, asking Little Red insulting questions about his crime: “Were you intoxicated?” He urges Little Red to disclose to the court any abuse he has suffered. It could be helpful to your case, he tells him. “You’ve got that ward-of-the-state aura.”

Also skewered: Larry’s corporate-lawyer wife Desdemona (Luisa Jojic, who is magnificent), with her chakras and her privilege and high-strung road rage.

And the dialogue. Little Red calls Larry a “limpy-ass cracker.” Larry calls Red a “self-serving savage.”

The play itself: there’s a self-referential line about unlikely scenarios, and this play is full of them. Which is part of the fun. This is a farce, after all.

Some of the jokes are a little juvenile (references to cougars; Larry’s Volvo mispronounced by Little Red as “Vulva;” a description of jail as the “throbbing phallus of the Canadian penal system”). But on opening night, the audience ate them up. I think we are all pretty desperate for a laugh.

Still, I could have done without the penal joke, which felt homophobic. And I also could have done without the repeated use of the term “shyster” to describe Little Red’s lawyer. The term has anti-Semitic connotations and is one of those code words often used against Jewish lawyers (even if its etymology is probably not related to Jews, and there’s no suggestion that Larry is Jewish). Also it’s barely funny once; certainly not four times.

As funny and farcical as this play is, it lives in a world of very serious issues: intergenerational trauma, residential school abuse, land claims, the environment. And human connection.

On that, something develops between Little Red and Desdemona that seems not only improbable, but creeps uncomfortably into territory that echoes the abuse of the residential school system. Although, maybe that was the point.

Still, I loved so much about this play: the gorgeous production design and smart sound design – one slow-motion set piece, in particular. Bob’s facial expressions. Everything Jojic did. And mostly: being in a theatre with strangers, laughing at jokes and gasping at surprises.

In the interest of consistency across all critics’ reviews, The Globe has eliminated its star-rating system in film and theatre to align with coverage of music, books, visual arts and dance. Instead, works of excellence will be noted with a critic’s pick designation across all coverage. (Television reviews, typically based on an incomplete season, are exempt.)