Review: VOICE

by Lynn on June 29, 2021

in The Passionate Playgoer

Streaming on the Prairie Theatre Exchange website until July 11:

Written by Ismaila Alfa

Directed by Cherissa Richards and Thomas Morgan Jones

Set concept by Cherissa Richards and Thomas Morgan Jones

Costumes by Joseph Abetria

Lighting by Jaymez

Sound by Deanna H. Choi

Original music by Ismaila Alfa

Ice River Films

Director, Sam Vent

Cast: Ismaila Alfa (voice over)

Melissa Langdon

Ray Strachan

Voice is a father’s love letter to his daughters on how to be a confident, useful citizen. It’s also a careful guide to being a devoted, caring father.

The Story. Ismaila Alfa is a radio broadcaster from Winnipeg. The catalyst for Voice was a job opportunity in Toronto. He went to Toronto for two weeks to audition for the job. He had to leave his daughters in the care of his ex-wife. He missed his daughters and lamented that they didn’t contact him regularly in the two weeks he was away. Were they ok? Would they forget him? They had their own lives to occupy their time, but still it rankled when he didn’t hear from them in calls or e-mails.

He got the job—as the host of CBC’s radio show Metro Morning although this is not actually said.  Ismaila Alfa would have to relocate from Winnipeg to Toronto and he would not be able to bring his daughters with him, at least not right away. Voice is a means of noting what made Ismaila Alfa the man he is today, his ethics, beliefs, struggles, thoughts and character. It’s also a condensed means of passing on that wisdom to his daughters.

Ismaila Alfa was born in Nigeria and came to Canada as a young boy with his family, via Sydney, Australia. There is a warning to the streamed production that says that the production contains descriptions of racism and police brutality. Ismaila Alfa is Black.

Alfa was guided in his life by his father’s teachings and wisdom and now he is passing that on to his daughters. In his bracing, compelling play, Alfa says: “My Dad told me that if I didn’t feel like this year was way more challenging than last year, I’m not making progress…

“I was born knowing who I am. I didn’t know that I also had to figure out who everyone else thought I was. That was a lesson I learned when I came to Canada…I had an identity thrust upon me even before I needed I.D: who are you and where are you from?”

Race is obviously important to the narrative of Voice. Ismaila Alfa says, “I’m rich with race…Our identity isn’t who made us, it’s what we have made of ourselves with their guidance. My ancestors hold me up but I decided my direction through the maze we call life.” Culture was passed down from generation to generation.  

Alfa has passed on that wisdom to his own daughters. “Lead by example. Adapt. Take every step with confidence but know when to change direction….Patience. Focus. Follow through. You are a gift. Family over anyone…I learn ‘cause I listen.”

I found Voice to be loaded with such wisdom I wanted to write it all down, or at least have a copy of the text with me. You get the sense of how important and urgent it was for Ismaila Alfa to pass on this wisdom to his girls in his absence, even though we know there is the phone, Facetime etc. to stay in touch.

The Production. Voice is performed on two round wood platforms. On one platform there are neat rows of milk crates piled one on top of another, full of neat notebooks and the occasional piece of clothing. They represent Ismaila Alfa’s packing to move to Toronto.  A young woman (Melissa Langdon) in jeans and a casual, top surveys, the boxes. She represents Alfa’s three daughters. We hear the voice over of Ismaila Alfa speaking sometimes in personal musings, sometimes in poetry sometimes in the style of hip hop. The voice is rich and quietly compelling. Ismaila Alfa also composed the music for the piece, various rhythmic drumming, that added an urgency and heartbeat to the piece.

The young woman flips through the notebooks, selecting one by random and reading, then another then another. It’s as if she is getting a different idea of her father through his writings and this leads her to other crates and other notebooks. Almost by some innate sense she removes crates that are piled on top of each other to find one that has his sweatshirt in it. She takes it out carefully and smells it to get the scent of her father into her lungs. Co-directors Cherissa Richards and Thomas Morgan Jones have created in that image a sense of the daughter’s longing for her father and how she will miss him and how much she loves him. She finds another crate with his jean jacket in it and she puts it on. At another point she finds a pair of earrings that she puts on—they look like they might have been passed down from generation to generation. In any case these earrings seem apt for this character who is in embracing her identity.

On the other round wood platform is Ray Strachan as the father in comfortable pants, a zip-up sweat shirt over a shirt and shoes. He uses his own voice to express different aspects of his character.  His platform is bare. We know the character is moving to another city. The mixed sense of longing and missing his daughter, mixed with the adventure of the new job is there in Ray Strachan’s face, body language and voice.

For most of the duration of the production both spaces are separate. When one platform is illuminated, the other is in darkness. The viewer wants the two characters to interact but first each character must navigate his/her own journey of discovery. The father has to express his feelings and the daughter has to discover her feelings by making her many discoveries of her father through his writing and thoughts. Only after each character has made their journey do they interact.

The sense of longing between father and daughter is so palpable in Voice, the love and bond between the two is so strong. Another wonderful piece of theatre from Prairie Theatre Exchange.

Voice streams on the Prairie Theatre Exchange website until July 11:

Leave a Comment

Respectful comments are accepted on this site as long as they are accompanied by a verifiable name and a verifiable e-mail address. Posts that are slanderous, libelous or personally derogatory will not be approved.