Perhaps you've never heard of Darren O'Donnell or his theatre company, Mammalian Diving Reflex. And perhaps you've never heard his play, White Mice. Yet, once you've encountered O'Donnell's black comedy, you'll have a hard time forgetting it.
White Mice is not your average play. It's the story of two white mice brothers who discover that they've been duped about mice of color their whole lives. During the course of the play, Robert and Douglas come to grips with the fact that Canadian society might just exist on the basis of white supremacy. O'Donnell has a hard time summing up the complexity of his play.
"It's a play about trying to dispel the myth of Canadian innocence around racism," he says. "Canada is not so innocent. There's systematic racism that goes on in Canada-it's hidden, but it's still there."
Throughout the play, Robert and Douglas (played by O'Donnell and Bruce Hunter) deal with the idea that capitalism and the sociological construct of "white" are actually based on the exploitation of other racial groups. "Capitalism wouldn't be in the successful state it is now if it hadn't been for that [exploitation]," O'Donnell explains. "Capitalism is identical to racism and identical to whiteness, and that's the premise of the play."
O'Donnell hopes that his audience will "squirm and laugh at the same time" while developing a new view of racism.
"I'm trying to illustrate the sort of confusion and effort that one needs to go through to come to an understanding of race that's a little more sophisticated than one that we have right now," he says. "It was pretty much Ku Klux Klan are bad, Canada is good. White Mice is a bit more subtle than that It's trying to illustrate that coming to that realization is a difficult process."
O'Donnell wrote the play in 1997 as a reaction to a relationship he was in.
"I was in a relationship with a woman of color. It turned out that my knowledge in that situation was really lacking and it was hard for her to deal with me," he remembers. "I had a hard time believing the day-to-dayness of racism in Canada. It was a really important relationship, so I was trying to come to understand it."
Since O'Donnell first staged the play in 1998, it's been performed several times and nominated for five Doras, Toronto's annual performing arts awards. This is White Mice's first time in Calgary, and O'Donnell is proud to be part of the High Performance Rodeo.
"I was here last year, and it's a great idea, there's not much else like it in Canada," he says. "It's a really strong balance between strong local participation and international participation."