Métis Mutt, at Aki Studio Daniels Spectrum through February 5, 2017
Louis Riel once said, “My people will sleep for one hundred years, but when they awake, it will be the artists who give them their spirit back.” Sheldon Elter is the living fulfilment of that promise. This 90-minute Native Earth Performing Arts show imported from Edmonton will have you pressed against the back of your seat and engaged to the point you’ll wonder where the time went.
He jumps right into character — “My name is Sheldon Elter and I’ll be your native comedian for tonight” — grabbing the microphone to spew out a series of jokes that increasingly make all in the audience uncomfortable: What do you call an Indian on a bike? Thief. What do you call two Indians on a bike? Organized crime. Switching moods, gaining traction, this natural mimic and fascinating mover keeps several narratives going, dropping one for another and filling in the missing parts as he goes.
Elter creates a character named Sheldon whose life details are pretty much those of the man himself. His father, Sonny, was native. His mother, whose last name he took, was in her youth a fair-skinned, blue-eyed blonde. Elter has a brother Derek, three years younger. As children they witnessed the beatings, the alcoholism, the raging arguments between parents and lots more that children should never see.
Switching rapidly from one character to another, Elter gives voice to them all: medicine man, drunken dad, classroom bullies, medical specialists. He plays guitar, singing a hilarious homo-erotic composition about the Lone Ranger and Tonto and a ballad called “Self Love” – neither recommended for family listening. Pieced together with lots of comic interludes is the story of a Metis youth who tries to protect his mother and eventually escapes with her to be raised by a step-father, who drinks and does drugs, stops and relapses, but finally finds his calling – and redemption – on stage. Elter is a born showman: he even does a passing impersonation of a Broadway musical performer.
Just when your sides are splitting from a series of one-liners (“my wet-dream catcher”), Elter slips into a heart-wrenching tale of lost youth. There were 11 years when he didn’t see his father at all and when he and a cousin go to visit the dad in a broken-down trailer, Sonny doesn’t at first recognize his own son. “At least he was sober,” the actor says.
A generous performer, Elter moves like lightning, breaking into break-dance, then singing a Cree song as he takes us to a northern sweat lodge ceremony. All the action unfolds against an ingenious screen, shaped like half of a circular hide drum, on which are projected images to help set the scene. Elter has been working on Métis Mutt for 17 years. The version here is directed by Edmonton’s Ron Jenkins and it is tight as a drum. Don’t miss it.
Created and performed by Sheldon Elter
Director: Ron Jenkins
Set and lighting: Tessa Stamp
Projection designer: T. Erin Gruber
Sound designer: Aaron Macri
Photo: Ryan Parker