The “Berry-picking” scene from Act I of James Reaney’s 1967 play Colours in the Dark uses a pattern poem in the shape of a family tree pyramid to help the berry-pickers bring back the lost child.
MOTHER: The Story of the Berry-Picking Child and the Bear.
SCREEN: A child’s drawing of a berry-picking woods.
PA: This happened early near the Little Lakes.
KIDS: Darting about with berry pails
Look at the raspberries
Look at the raspberries
Don’t eat them. They’re poison.
Bunch berries (ugh!)
One child is left busily picking. Her name is SADIE.
GRAMP: as a bear. Enters and lifts up a child.
Child my cubs need nurse. I need your blood.
SADIE: Wouldn’t blood-red berries do instead?
GRAMP: No. Flesh must be my bread.
SADIE: Put me down Mr. Bear. I do thee dread.
Bear runs off with child, kids enter shrieking.
KIDS: A bear ran off with Sadie! A bear ran off with Sadie! And it takes a lot of people to produce one child.
They form a family tree pyramid with a reappearing Sadie.
Eight Great grandparents
Sixteen Great great grandparents
Thirty-two Great great great grandparents
Sixty-four Great great great great grandparents
One hundred and twenty-eight Great great great great great grandparents
Two hundred and fifty-six Great great great great great great grandparents
Five hundred and twelve Great great great great great great great grandparents
One thousand and twenty-four Great great great great great great great great grandparents
It would take over a thousand people to do this scene: at Listeners’ Workshop we did it with thirty-two people: the children here are suggested by a triangle arrangement, the thousand ancestors behind each human being. Have one group of players in charge of chanting “Great great” & “grandparents”.
SADIE: Are you there 1,024 ancestors?
A feeble rustle
Are you there 512
Are you there 256
Are you there 128
Sound gets louder, less ghost-like and more human.
Are you there 64
Are you there 32
Are you there 16
More recent ancestors step forward and say firmly and clearly what we have only dimly heard: “We’re here.”
Are you there 8
Are you there 4
Are you there Mother and Father?
GRAMP, MA and PA step forward and establish the next scene as the kids fade away
For more about James Reaney’s use of shape poems or pattern poems as theatrical devices, see Thomas Gerry’s book The Emblems of James Reaney (2013) and Gerry’s article “Marvellous Playhouses The Emblems of James Reaney” in the Summer 2019 issue of Queen’s Quarterly.