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This article was published 5/11/2010 (2303 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A bullet and makeup are all that connect the two widely divergent acts of Daniel David Moses's fascinating Almighty Voice and His Wife.
In a brief prologue to the Theatre Projects Manitoba's season-opener, a young aboriginal woman looking perplexed ambles to the front of the stage dabs makeup on her face and then places a bullet at the front of the bare Rachel Browne Theatre stage.
Moses, an Ontario-based playwright, then settles his audience into a semi-accurate historical tale about a martyred Saskatchewan folk hero named Almighty Voice. It starts off as a basic, young love story -- one that is doomed given the presence of the bullet -- between the macho Cree teenager and the 13-year-old White Girl, a feisty, fearful young woman spooked by her introduction to the white man's god at residential school.
"He's like the glass," says a worried White Girl. "He's hard. He cuts you down."
They marry and Almighty Voice kills a stray cow for the wedding party. In the aftermath of the Riel Rebellion, aboriginals are no longer allowed to shoot their food on public land. Almighty Voice is jailed, and worried that he could be hanged, escapes and rejoins White Girl. The star-crossed lovers, played by Derek Garza and P.J. Prudat, are on the lam and become a frontier version of Bonnie and Clyde. There is only one way for this to end, and it does with cannon fire and shattering glass.
At intermission, there is nothing exceptional about Almighty Voice and His Wife, a polished touring production of Toronto's Native Earth Performing Arts being hosted by TPM. The point about the overkill of Canada's native people -- Almighty Voice is slain by a cannonball after all -- is hard to miss.
Nothing in the first act prepares the viewer for the riotous, perplexing second. Again the touchstones are the bullet, which a puzzled white-faced man named Mr. Ghost (Garza) arrives on stage with and fires to the floor in disgust. Waiting for him is a female MC (Prudat) in white-face and wearing the scarlet Mountie jacket with white gloves. She calls to him, "Hey, dead man, hey, red man, hey, Indian."
What was naturalistic and conventional prior to the intermission is vaudevillian and grotesque afterwards. Moses purposefully jars the sensibilities of his audience. He trots out every offensive cliché about aboriginals and attaches them to pop culture mainstays such as Keystone Kops silent movies, rimshot humour ("Don't call me Shirley!"), canned laughter and native songs sung to the tune of God Save the Queen.
"This is what they've done to you," the MC tells Mr. Ghost.
Although trying to grasp it all is futile, you can't help but understand this is what aboriginal people have become or what white culture thinks they have become. Only late in the two-hour long production do the two characters from the second act discover they are connected from the first act.
The cast is finely tuned to the challenging material. Garza, an American actor, is an appealing underdog hero as Almighty Voice. Saskatchewan-born Prudat exudes a kind of worldly innocence as White Girl but is riveting to watch as the intense, mocking MC. Jackie Chau's set is effectively simple while director Michael Greyeyes displays a fine hand with Almighty Voice and his Wife's split personality.
You don't see plays like this very often but this one is worth seeing.
Almighty Voice and His Wife
Theatre Projects Manitoba
To Nov. 14 at Rachel Browne Theatre
Four stars out of five