Speak Truth to Power: Truth conquers all

Truth conquers all

Part of the strong ensemble cast: Nina Marie Fillis, The Man (who remains anonymous) and Saro Saroyan
Photo: Tristan Brand

Ariel Dorfman's Speak Truth to Power: Voices From Beyond the Dark still resonates in Montreal and worldwide

In the humble, high-ceilinged room that sits just beside the pews and pulpit, stained-glass and dark wood embellishments of St-George’s Anglican Church, a drama is unfolding. Its message and its power could easily be a non-denominational sermon but there’s no preaching, no proselytizing, just stories of overcoming fear and speaking out, stories meant to be heard.

Almost 10 years after the world premiere of Ariel Dorfman’s Speak Truth to Power: Voices in the Dark, Montreal has the chance to take in the play afresh and see its still highly relevant human rights subject matter in today’s context.

The play, a series of monologues and chorus work that intertwine the stories of 50 human rights activists from around the world, is based on Kerry Kennedy’s 2000 book of the same name. The two were launched together in Washington, D.C. to draw maximum attention to human rights struggles and abuses. Originally featuring actors Sigourney Weaver, Alec Baldwin (who played the character of The Man) and Kevin Kline, as well as an appearance by then-president Bill Clinton, the call to action was heard internationally.

"All of these issues are still relevant and still going on even after 10 years of knowing about them," says director Bruce Lambie, who first directed the play in 2006 while in his final year at Bishop’s University in Sherbrooke. With this production, he’s multiplied the play’s power with an impressive ensemble of local professional actors who pull off the heavy subject matter with genuine, captivating performances that go far beyond being simply talking heads.

The 50 roles (along with chorus work) taken on by the nine actors can’t truly be called characters, as all of the voices in Speak Truth to Power are those of real people – the words they speak are not an imagined script but Dorfman’s well-crafted transcripts of their own experiences as told to Kennedy.

The striking images by photographer Eddie Adams in Kennedy’s book accompany each brief monologue (the play is so well-crafted, it manages to be just over an hour long), but rather than distracting from the actors on stage, they add a deeper level of awareness to the truths told.

"There’s a person in the play, Bobby Muller, who says that people think that if there’s an international treaty that it’s done and over with," says assistant director and co-producer Alison Louder. "But it’s not. We still have child slavery, female circumcision, torture, unlawful detention – and it’s happening everywhere."

In the midst of the minimal set (nothing more than a semi-circle of chairs), among the nine actors, sits the only true "character," The Man, a purposely anonymous composite who Dorfman calls the "ambassador of multiple evils."

"[Dorfman] wrote in this character of The Man in order to provoke the need for this discussion in the public forum," says Louder. "All of us have the potential to become The Man just as all of us have the potential to make a difference – personal choices can lead us down a path of apathy or destruction or hatred, but if that’s not the way we want to live our lives, we can look at The Man and ask what we can do differently."

"What I hope is that people come and see this play and are encouraged to do more on these issues or investigate these people or put the play on again, " says Lambie. "It’s my hope that people will see this and think these voices need to be heard, and understand that there are other voices out there too."

Speak Truth to Power: Voices in the Dark
At St-George’s Anglican Church (1101 Stanley), to Aug. 29, 8 p.m., $15, box office 514-756-8951
For more information on the Speak Truth to Power global effort, see www.speaktruth.org

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