Thursday, February 2, 2012

Push 2012 Review #11: Almighty Voice and His Wife at The Waterfront

As PuSh Festival Senior Curator Sherrie Johnson and I were discussing last night after the premiere of Daniel David Moses' Almighty Voice and His Wife at the Waterfront Theatre, it's hard to believe the piece was written and first premiered way back in 1991. That's how theatrically audacious and representationally daring the piece is, made even more so in this compelling production from Canada's premiere Aboriginal theatre company, Native Earth Performing Arts, which is here vividly directed by Michael Greyeyes in a co-presentation with Touchstone and Pi Theatres as part of this year's Aboriginal Performance Series at the Festival.

The play is a two-hander told over two acts and based on historical incidents. Almighty Voice is a Cree man from the One Arrow Reserve in Saskatchewan who is arrested after poaching a cow. He escapes from prison and a manhunt is initiated by the Northwest Mounted Police. Hiding out at his mother's home with his wife, White Girl, who has already had a terrifying vision of his demise, Almighty Voice prepares for the inevitable shootout. When it comes, it is brutal and bloody. All of this is told in a fairly straightforward manner over 10 compact scenes, the titles of which are announced in a Brechtian manner by White Girl. However, this metatheatrical conceit--together with the almost deliberately anthropological/dioramic way (most of the scenes are played in a single large centre spot on an otherwise bare stage) this "true story of the dying Plains Indian" is staged by Greyeyes--is a clue to what's coming next.

Indeed, returning from intermission the audience discovers the stage now cluttered with props, the flies open to expose the wings, and a cue card dangling from the rafters announcing Act 2: Ghost Dance. The actors themselves, we soon discover, return in white face, with White Girl now additionally dressed like a Mountie and, true to the interlocutor/impresario role she now takes on, charged with getting the person she addresses as Almighty Ghost to perform his Indianness for us. Combining aspects of the vaudeville routine and the minstrel and medicine shows, the second act is a series of increasingly outrageous and high-stakes riffs on "redskin" stereotypes, addressed directly to the audience. Indeed, in Act 2 Moses doesn't just break the fourth wall, he explodes it, with both Mr. Interlocutor and Almighty Ghost coming out into the audience at various points, and each strategically playing to and upon our ideological sympathies in order to gain the upper hand.

And it is this last point that makes Moses' play at once so groundbreaking and compellingly contemporary, for it accomplishes via its canny structure the double task of exposing both real and representational violence to us, theatricalizing Aboriginal stereotypes and then catching us in the act of succumbing to them. It is risky material, to be sure (think of some of the backlash and misinterpretation that accompanied Spike Lee's film Bamboozled), and it takes very accomplished performers to bring it off successfully, capturing both the ironic comedy and the tragic drama underlying the jokes. Happily, the incredibly talented Derek Garza and PJ Prudat are more than up to the task, and kudos must go to all the artists involved in bringing this masterpiece of Canadian drama back to the stage.

Almighty Voice and His Wife continues at the Waterfront through this Saturday.


1 comment:

Charlotté said...

Great review Peter!

I'm working with IPAA and NEPA is in our membership. Such talented folks. I very happily found the link to your review through Facebook labyrinths.

Hope you're well.

C. Calon