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This article was published 2/11/2010 (2397 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Daniel David Moses is a prominent name in aboriginal theatre but you wouldn't know it by his production history in this city.
His plays have never been produced here, leaving him to languish in the shadow of his more celebrated contemporary Tomson Highway, the Manitoba-born Cree who penned the groundbreaking The Rez Sisters and Dry Lips Oughta Move to Kapuskasing.
"When Tomson was launched on the scene he made a big splash and he became the go-to guy for aboriginal theatre," says Moses, during a telephone interview from Kingston, Ont., where he teaches at Queen's University. "It was a certain historical moment and Tomson was the man for it."
Everyone else got overlooked.
"I don't know if the mainstream has heard of any other native playwrights," says Yvette Nolan, the former Winnipegger who for almost eight years has been the artistic director of the preeminent Canadian aboriginal theatre company Native Earth Performing Arts in Toronto. "People have seen The Rez Sisters and Dry Lips but nobody has seen anything before or since."
Moses, also a poet, has been even more prolific than Highway but has never written anything so embraced by mainstream theatre as either of Highway's signature works. Winnipeggers will get their first look at Moses when Theatre Projects Manitoba kicks off its 2010-11 season Thursday with his comedy/drama Almighty Voice and his Wife.
"I think this is the best native play you've never heard of," says Nolan. "In native theatre, it's a seminal work."
Almighty Voice is based on a historical figure, a young Cree who was jailed by the North-West Mounted Police in 1895 for slaughtering a government cow for his wedding party. He escaped and while on the lam killed a Mountie, which intensified the manhunt until Almighty Voice was surrounded and killed by canon fire.
Moses, a registered Delaware Indian from Six Nations lands in Ontario, remembers coming upon the story and being shocked at its outcome. Although he was aware that history is written by the victors, Moses had swallowed whole the idea that the way the West had been settled through a series of humanely administered treaties. He hadn't realized that there had been such a clampdown on the people of the West after the Riel rebellion.
"At first I was resistant to telling the story again," he says "Do we need to kill the Indian again for the entertainment of the audience?"
His plan was to stop telling the story of the teenage boy in trouble just when he and his friends are surrounded by the authorities, then the lights would come up for intermission. The challenge was what to do for a second act. Moses, 58, remembered that at that time of the incident the dominant form of theatre featured white people wearing black face in minstrel shows. He decided to turn that form of entertainment on its head by having the two characters return for the second act in white face and investigate how the story had been appropriated by non-native society.
Almighty Voice and his Wife debuted at Ottawa's Great Canadian Theatre company in 1991, followed by a run at Native Earth in Toronto. It was revived again last year by Native Earth for a national tour which continues to Winnipeg and Nov. 17-18 at Brandon University.
"That's not much," says Nolan. "Who gets done if you are a native playwright in this country? There's been a fear of doing it, of doing it wrong. Marie Clements (Copper Thunderbird) is the most important contemporary aboriginal playwright and she doesn't get done."
Moses hopes the TPM run will open doors in Winnipeg and risk producing his other plays such as Coyote City and The Indian Medicine Shows.
Almighty Voice is the sixth play presented at TPM with aboriginal content in six years. It's rare for a mainstream company in Canada to make that commitment to its aboriginal audience.
"These stories are as relevant for the non-aboriginal community as the native population to learn and understand how we've come to where we are," says TPM artistic director Ardith Boxall.
Almighty Voice and his Wife
Theatre Projects Manitoba
Opens Thursday, to Nov. 14 at Rachel Browne Theatre
Tickets: $22, $18 (seniors), $15 (students)