Monique Grbec reviews Deer Woman, a powerful crime drama drawing from the murders of Canadian First Nations women
Deer Woman is a fast paced crime drama with a deep vein of dark comedy. Playing in the intimate space of Fairfax Studio, this show – by Tara Beagan and performed by the Cherish Violet Blood – it’s the finale of Art Centre Melbourne’s Big World Up Close series.
Green-washed video footage of woodlands with grazing deer is projected onto two large white cloths that are spread wide, like wing awnings for tents. A smartphone set on a tripod takes center stage. The deers scatter and Lila (Cherish Violet Blood), a proud Blackfoot woman, stomps between the dark gap of the scenes and into our lives. She wears a hoody with ARMY branded across the front and mocks people who wear them as fashion – people who’ve “never even been in the army”.
Turning on her smartphone video camera, Lila begins a 90 minute monologue to camera. A woman strong with culture, experience and confidence, her story rollicks along in the rhizomic way of truth telling. Along with the enlarged video images of Lila on the cloth screens behind her, this gives the audience a sense of watching live television drama – maybe a brighter, sassier Dexter. This woman can be cool, calculating and callous, but she is also a woman who knows “laughing kisses are the best”. Lila is loving, and is loved.
Like Jeff Lindsay’s lead character in his novel Darkly Dreaming Dexter – the inspiration for TV Dexter – she is a vigilante with well-honed killing skills. But here the impetus for her mission is personal: Lila’s target is the killer of her sweet-hearted humanitarian little sister – just one of thousands of murdered and missing Indian women in the colonised nation known as “Canada”.
Playing out the myth of a Deer Woman who lures a promiscuous man to his death, Lila’s calm professionalism is inspiring. The final scene was riveting, especially for those of us without hunting experience. What must a male hunter feel every time he kills a stag, or in Australia a kangaroo?
Mixed with many anecdotes about family, loved ones and abusers, the sense that Lila’s violent actions are justifiable is very real. By the final scenes, I was struggling with the feeling of being a spectator at a colosseum arena cheering for the kill. It’s such a challenging twist, given the recent shame of mass shootings – and maybe even more challenging if you are male.
Deer Woman, writer Tara Beagan, performer Cherish Violet Blood. Director lighting video set design Andy Moro. Original music composition and performance Lacey Hill. Article 11. Arts Centre Melbourne, Fairfax Studio. Until 1 September. Bookings