Almighty Voice and His Wife – Curatorial Statement
November 24, 2011
By Sherrie Johnson
PuSh Festival Senior Curator
In October 2010 I had the good fortune to travel to Halifax to attend Prismatic, a national festival celebrating Canada’s leading Aboriginal and culturally diverse artists, produced by Shahin Sayadi and Maggie Stewart of Onelight Theatre.
It was during Prismatic that I attended Native Earth Performing Arts‘ production of Almighty Voice and His Wife, written by Aboriginal playwright Daniel David Moses. This first rate production was revived in 2009 (originally produced in 1991) and directed by Michael Greyeyes, an outstanding First Nations actor, choreographer, director and educator. As a sidebar, PuSh has commissioned Michael Greyeyes to deliver a keynote address to kick off this year’s PuSh Assembly titled “Staging Ethnicity” (Feb. 2nd).
Almighty Voice and His Wife is written in two acts. The first act is a naturalistic snapshot of Almighty Voice, a 19th century Saskatchewan Cree, and his Wife, White Girl. Act 1 comes from a place of oral tradition and story telling – the story is narrated and told from the memory of White Girl. We discover Almighty Voice is accused of stealing a settler’s cow for their wedding feast, is jailed, makes a heroic escape and together the newlyweds go on the run from the law fleeing through Saskatchewan. While hiding from their captors, Almighty Voice slays one of the pursuing Mounties. The couple is forced to separate – eventually leading to the incarceration of White Girl and the death of Almighty Voice.
The second act takes a bizarre and ironic twist as a vaudeville cabaret. White Girl is now dressed as a Mountie, leading us through the second act as a Master of Ceremonies while Almighty Voice returns as a Ghost (both in whiteface). The second act mocks a non-native society in their attempt to locate their “native voice”. In this Act, White Girl forces Almighty Voice into one demeaning act after another until finally they succumb to each other and are reunited as man and wife as “proud Native-Canadians.” The circus that ensues in the second act underscores the absurdity of colonialism, and therein lies the brilliance of this piece. A sheer assault on our moral compass as a society – theatre doesn’t get any better than this.
This iconic work from Daniel David Moses stands the test of time and should not be missed by PuSh audiences!