CW: references to genocide, suicide
Boarding the PTV bus outside the Meat Market, we think that we are waiting for Simon. Engine kicking into gear, it turns out he is waiting for us. Stepping swiftly through the front door, Simon Douglas, performed by Craig Lauzon, disposes of his backpack onto the luggage rack, and leaps headfirst into his story. As Douglas flits forward and back throughout the walk way, leaping through space and time, our existence driving through the streets of North Melbourne melts away, the bus looping and circling for near on two hours.
Tales of an Urban Indian is a travelling story in many senses. A semi-autobiographical narrative disconnected from its author Darrell Dennis, the work is transplanted into the body of Lauzon, and translocated from the reserve where Douglas was raised to the streets built on Wurundjeri country where we are now travelling. Along our way, Douglas’s life is replayed; one of a brutal adolescence and turbulent adulthood, battling discrimination and despair at every stage. An aspiring actor, Douglas tells his tale with wit, yet the roller coaster is always a moment from plummeting, perspectives of bleak absurdism interwoven with the banality of resisting white supremacy on an everyday basis.
For those that find it hard to understand how genocide persists for Indigenous people today, Tales of an Urban Indian makes it clear. Genocide is more than the initial act of colonisation; it is also the systematic neglect and unending oppression of a people that leads them to self-destruct. As our journey following Simon’s life enters adolescence, he tacks first one, then another photo on the bus window above us. Two teens in one community, taking their life within days of each other. In Simon’s words, a domino effect. The devastating reality overshadowing this story is that these pictures, these lives, and their struggles, reflect a situation that has escalated to an epidemic in Canada today.
Lauzon’s energy immerses us so deeply in the life of Simon Douglas that it is easy to forget it is not his own. Without caution Lauzon lunges through the bus, and Douglas bursts into life. All levels become stage for Lauzon to warp and bend through, the jostle and swerve of the bus cannot hinder his exuberant and fantastical storytelling. Lauzon carries us through difficult truths and territory with his dynamism and brings us out the other side on a wave of resilience. The journey is not over for Douglas, and it is with a proud head that Lauzon brings Tales to a close.
It is a curious and ambitious task to take deeply personal, traumatic stories and dislocate them from their owner. In recreating Tales of an Urban Indian, director Herbie Barnes has stuck true to the character of Simon Douglas. He can be at times deeply jarring – objectifying girls at high school, participating in homophobia to deflect bullying, associating his lowest point in life with time spent with sex workers – yet Barnes chooses to keep these flaws on show. These moments are grating, but the weight of reality behind them points to their necessity. We are here to see the full life of Simon Douglas, warts and all.