Twenty-five years after it first appeared on stage in Kingston, Daniel David Moses’ The Almighty Voice and His Wife is back with a new cast, new perspective and the same director.
Currently featured at The Grand Theatre, the two-act play tells the story of two Cree lovers, Almighty Voice and White Girl. Shortly after getting married, the characters, played by Brendan Chandler and Brefny Caribou respectively, find themselves on the run from Mounties after killing a settler’s cow.
The show is directed by Lib Spry, a Queen’s professor and PhD candidate who also directed its very first production 25 years ago, and brought it back to stage with Moses, who also teaches at Queen’s Dan School of Drama and Music.
Spry said directing a play now is a lot different from when she started.
“I am much more aware of everything that the Canadian state has done to Indigenous people, historically and now, in a way that I wasn’t 25 years ago,” Spry said.
“Daniel has written a play that leaves it up to each person to walk away with what they think,” she added.
The first act, Running with the Moon, tells the story in a straightforward, chronological manner. Throughout nine scenes named after the phases of the moon, we see Chandler and Caribou take the stage as the two lovers. We watch their marriage unfold, both in their most intimate moments and their most trying ordeals.
The first scene of the second act then calls out a plethora of misconceptions, judgments and falsities about Indigenous communities. The Almighty Voice’s Ghost is taunted by Caribou’s White Girl – now acting as The Interlocutor – and forced to participate in “The Red and White Victoria Regina Spirit Revival Show”. They go back and forth between discriminatory jokes and jingles tackling stereotypes like alcoholism through heartfelt, emotionally turbulent performances, leaving audience members laughing, uncomfortable and affected by the intentionally prejudiced parody.
Caribou shines as the loyal, resolute and sometimes — as her husband calls her — “crazy” White Girl. Her performance as The Interlocutor in the second half of the show highlights her capabilities; the character is funny, hateful and presents a whirlwind of emotions, and Caribou pulls it off.
She emphasizes the importance of the play’s many historical components and their effect on its overall impact.
“It’s kind of amazing how Daniel touches on so many issues involving Indigenous history,” Caribou said. “It’s incredibly important to be talking about these things, and he does it in such an organic way.”
“On one level we’re telling this love story of these two young people in a time of Confederation and colonialism, but then underneath it all, all the history kind of sneaks in and permeates the entire show,” she added.
Chandler embodies the wild and passionate Almighty Voice and transitions into a conflicted, emotional Almighty Ghost seamlessly in Act Two. He maintains the strength of the character from beginning to end, and still allows his vulnerability to show.
Chandler explained the role has been incredibly eye-opening for him, and that the play itself has allowed him to reconnect with his heritage.
“I always wanted to play an Indigenous person because I neglected my heritage my whole life. Doing this as my first production has been an invitation,” Chandler said. “This play is beyond me. The energy that it requires is something I’ve never actually been comfortable with.”
“It’s like looking at this bandaid I’ve had on my body for 25 years, and wondering ‘Why do I still have it there?’ And then being invited to take it off.”
The play’s production and delivery is the foundation of its impact. The music is done mostly in-house, and features Ojibway composer David Deleary, who also worked on the first production 25 years ago. With a creative team of primarily Indigenous individuals, the show is executed simply, with haunting and beautiful visuals alongside the captivating performances of its leads.
Moses’ The Almighty Voice and His Wife is a production that requires constant attention. It can be a tad confusing at times — let the mind stray and key moments can easily be missed.
But it presents an honest, deliberate and turbulent story of struggling lovers and combative performers. It’s an important piece, relevant in its historical details and contemporary themes, for all to experience.
The play makes its return in a time when its themes are more relevant than ever — Indigenous issues are rightfully garnering more attention, especially in light of Canada’s 150 anniversary of Confederation, and this play presents an essential opportunity for discussion.
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