Names, Naming, and The Ministry of Grace

Tara Beagan’s play, The Ministry of Grace, which I was lucky to see a few months ago, when theaters were still open and social distancing hadn’t yet transformed our lives, is about power and race and the scars of a not-so-distant past that continue to haunt the present. Toronto director and playwright Tara Beagan, who is of Ntlakapamux and Irish Canadian descent, has based this story loosely on her grandmother’s time in California working for a traveling evangelical minister in 1950.

Beagan reportedly worked on the play for ten years, something my slow-writer self can relate to. I found myself drawn into the play’s slow build, reflective characterization and eventual undertows of emotion. PJ Prudat played a sensitive Mary with many layers, from her yearning for the children taken from her and sent to boarding school to the fierceness with which she resists the obnoxious con man who goes by the moniker of Brother Cain.

The whole issue of names rang bells for me. Cain (now there’s a name with echoes to it!) has dreamed up stage names for his workhand Joseph and for Mary, whom he dubs Grace. Such arrogance, right, to expunge the identities if other human beings and rename them to play assigned roles. The strength of the play is in how the indigenous characters rise beyond their manipulated, performative roles, refusing in the end to abandon humanity, kindness, and yes, grace.

More about The Ministry of Grace from an early post from Article 11: Indigenous Activist Arts.

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