by Lynn on October 24, 2019

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Daniel David Moses

Directed by Jani Lauzon

Choreographed by Brian Solomon

Set and video by Ken MacKenzie

Costumes by Kinoo Arcentales

Lighting by Jennifer Lennon

Composer, sound and arrangements by Marc Meriläinen

Cast: James Dallas Smith

Michaela Washburn

This is a love story between a celebrated man and a teenage woman. They are meant for each other. She can match his wit barb for barb. They banter as equals and joke and are affectionate. But their story is loaded with incident. It’s Saskatchewan in the 1890s. Almighty Voice is a respected Cree hunter living on the One Arrow Reserve. She is White Girl a young teenage Indigenous woman. He kills a cow but it’s not clear why or if it belongs to his family and is arrested for it. While in jail rumors swirled that he would be hanged for the crime so he escapes with White Girl and was on the run for almost two years during which he killed a Mountie. The hunt therefore intensified.

Those are some of the facts. In 1991 playwright Daniel David Moses created Almighty Voice and His Wife that took the facts and presented them in a way that told a love story that was set against the prejudice, misinformation and ruthless cruelty of a white world that tried to control an Indigenous story. Because Moses is such a good, smart writer the form of the play is arresting and compelling.

Act I seems straightforward in which Almighty Voice (James Dallas Smith) and White Girl (Michaela Washburn) meet and instantly are attracted and fall in love. The age difference is not an issue because she can match him wit for wit. She seems commonsensical and sometimes he seems playful. He is wary, resourceful and watchful. When they are on the run she is as resourceful as he is.

Act II is a total change of pace. Daniel David Moses changes the genre of the play to that of a vaudeville entertainment. But of course it’s anything but light. The terrible issues with which the Indigenous peoples had to contend are presented in stark relief against a ‘humourous’ background. The result is all the more sobering because we have the benefit of 28 years of stories, plays and information about the hideous treatment of Indigenous peoples since the play premiered.

Director Jani Lauzon brings a perspective that few others have. She was the original White Girl in the 1991 inaugural production at the Great Canadian Theatre Company. Together with her design team and her two fine actors Lauzon has created a production that is beautiful and evocative. Ken MacKenzie’s set is of a tepee viewed from the ground looking up at its centre. There is a circle from which ‘poles’ fan out holding up the hides that form the tepee. I loved the suggestion of it. Kinoo Arcentrales’ costumes for Almighty Voice and White Girl are works of art in clothing.

There is a fluid elegance to Lauzon’s direction. The loving, impish relationship is beautifully established between Almighty Voice and White Girl. And yet Lauzon has instilled a sense of urgency in Act I and a decided ironic tone in Act II. It’s never forced. She lets the words give the message and the actors put the heart and soul into it. As Almighty Voice, James Dallas Smith is both commanding and boyish. He has more variation and nuance in his performance than Michaela Washburn as White Girl but she too instills her character with a mixture of humour and gravitas.

Almight Voice and His Wife is as relevant today as it was in 1991, which is its own tragedy. It’s an important story, beautifully told in this elegant, poetic, artful production.

Soulpepper presents:

Opened: Oct. 17, 2019.

Closes: Nov. 10, 2019.

Running Time: 110 minutes, approx.

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