Skip to main content

Keep up to date with the weekly Nestruck on Theatre newsletter. Sign up today.

Open this photo in gallery:

Jani Lauzon in Prophecy Fog at Coal Mine in November, 2023.DAHLIA KATZ/Coal Mine Theatre

  • Title: Prophecy Fog
  • Written by: Jani Lauzon
  • Director: Franco Boni
  • Actors: Jani Lauzon
  • Company: Coal Mine Theatre
  • Venue: 2076 Danforth Ave
  • City: Toronto
  • Year: To Dec. 12, 2023

What happens to sacred lands when they are disconnected from their caretakers is at the heart of Jani Lauzon’s autobiographical solo show Prophecy Fog at Coal Mine Theatre. Lauzon tells stories from her life as a girl with rocks in her pockets to her journeys to Giant Rock in the Mojave Desert, a sacred place for many First Nations. Unfortunately, Giant Rock has also been co-opted by UFO believers and conventioneers, and defaced by graffiti enthusiasts of varying skill levels and political agendas. Have xenophobic slogans and UFO t-shirt sales ruined this place forever?

As the show opens, Lauzon shares that elders taught her that rocks are the skin of the Earth, and that they hold stories if you’re open to hearing them. She shows the rocks she’s collected over the years. Some look like mismatched socks; another, like Elvis Presley. One is from the Mojave, where a quartz hill is wearing away as dirt bikers gather to practise their skills. All have significance to Lauzon and feel more akin to castmates than props. It’s a light-hearted and gentle set-up for deep existential questioning.

When the Mojave Desert was settled (or more accurately, occupied), the Indigenous people who cared for and gathered at Giant Rock – a massive boulder several storeys high – were dispossessed. The new “owners” of the land understood it was a site of profound spiritual significance for the Indigenous people and allowed them to return for monthly ceremonies.

Lauzon explains how the settlers misunderstood these ceremonies, and then passed on their confusions to fellow settlers, which eventually led to the supposed Hopi prophecy of the Rainbow Warriors who will come to save the Earth. The story was neither Hopi in origin nor related to Giant Rock, but it’s still regularly misattributed in pop culture. It’s a kind of prophecy fog, an accidental new mythology, built on the backs of Indigenous people and separated from their land and customs. Lauzon endeavours to clear the haze with humour and grace, admitting that even she is not immune to misinformation.

She tells stories of her time spent with Indigenous elders, from whom she learned more accurate versions of origin stories. She also recounts the history of the settlers who lived at Giant Rock – most notably George Van Tassel, who purported to visit with aliens there. As Lauzon reconciles the conflicting and, at times, darkly humorous history of the site, she generously finds glimmers of a through line that connect the disparate tales without alienating (pun intended) anyone.

The ability to tell complex stories and ugly truths and still find commonalities between people is refreshing in the ever-increasing culture of polarization we live in. That it all holds together is a testament to Lauzon’s formidable storytelling skills.

Director Franco Boni and environmental designer Melissa Joakim create an ethereal atmosphere where origin stories, cosmology and archeology co-exist. It’s an intimate space with a permeable fourth wall, Lauzon occasionally urging the audience to consider where their beliefs come from.

When Prophecy Fog premiered in 2019, it was met with critical success. In 2023, it’s every bit as delightful – and, at this moment, feels essential: Lauzon invites us to consider what we consider sacred, whether Giant Rock, ourselves, the ground beneath our feet or a random stranger on the subway.

Interact with The Globe