Voiceless People: A Play
Renate Usmiani was Professor of English at Mount St. Vincent University in Halifax.
Voiceless People suffers from all the weaknesses inherent in political theatre: rhetorical language, heavy-handed symbolism, predictable characters. It deals with the problem of emigration/immigration, and the particular difficulties involved for women.
The play traces the fate of a typical Italian immigrant family: Antonio leaves his village to find work in Montreal, where he lives with hostility and prejudice. His wife joins him years later but remains estranged. The parents dedicate their entire energy to the creation of the “better life” they had dreamed of; when they finally succeed, their children turn against them. The younger generation, unable to appreciate their material position, necessarily rebel against the first-generation immigrant value system of their parents.
Unfortunately, most of the dialogue sounds abstract and artificial, thus undermining the realism of the characters. This may be partly due to the translation, which also shows through conspicuously in many instances. The structure is essentially Brechtian, with several attempts at poetic heightening (e.g., the play opens and closes in Antonio’s native village).
While the poignant theme and valid political message may carry Voiceless People in performance, it does not make good reading, particularly in this flawed English version.