Edinburgh Fringe 2019
Dramatization of the true story of an unwitting accomplice to potential tax fraud.
We all have that voice in the back of our head that encourages us to take risks or warns us against certain actions. Do we listen to the voice? How does it influence us, for good or for bad? How do we silence the voice, or do we want to silence the voice? How do we ignore the messages? That is the premise of the play Voice of Authority by actor/singer/songwriter Dean Temple. He takes us down the road of exploring mental health issues through an incredible true-life story of conflict and challenges, told in music and monologue. It is new writing, an original story delivered on a bare stage with simple lighting, which makes it impactful in the sparseness of the production.
Dean grew up always wanting to be a musician. He opens the show with a song, setting the stage for his story. His strength is in the storytelling but the music provides a framework. His first “starring role” on stage was at age three, singing a Ukranian folk song for his grandmother, who was a concert pianist from Ukraine. Dean was bitten. He bought a guitar and never lost sight of his goal. But raised by a father who was a lawyer meant that a career in the arts was discouraged by his family. So he listened to that “voice of authority” and worked as an intern at a New York City newspaper, while his classmates became wealthy investment bankers.
No matter what he undertook, the constant “voice of authority” was his critic. It was unsettling and challenging, and convinced him that he would never be a successful musician.
So he took what was offered to him by his family: a steady job with his multimillionaire uncle that would make it possible for Dean to be able to pay his bills for the first time in his life. It seemed easy, just office work, and it was lucrative, affording him luxury cars, upscale housing, and fancy restaurant meals. It seemed easy – until one day his uncle went off the grid and Dean was served papers by the U.S. tax department. His uncle’s lottery ticket business was accused of being dodgy and Dean was told by the “voice of authority” Internal Revenue Service that he owed $19 million (U.S.)! Dean’s assets were frozen, and he was suddenly broke. He engenders our sympathy for his plight as an unwitting victim. As he tells the story, he dramatically shifts between booming out the voice in his head, and calmly describing the events. The personality switches give the piece more dynamics, helping to carry the solo show.
Dean reached out to his friend and mentor, Zachary Solov, for help dealing with the disaster. Solov was an award-winning ballet dancer and choreographer at New York’s Metropolitan Opera. After leaving his full-time position at the Met in 1958, he toured the Zachary Solov ensemble and went on to choreograph for the San Francisco Opera, the Kansas City Civic Ballet, the Atlanta Civic Ballet, and the National Ballet of Canada, among many others. Despite the difference in their ages, there was chemistry between Dean and Solov. Solov became Dean’s new “voice of authority” in helping him cope with the three-year complex and difficult web of legal issues. As Dean was unable to work, he spent the time collecting stories from Zolov’s fascinating career. Dean aptly portrays the tenderness in that relationship, which clearly helped him cope with the enormous problems he faced.
The show peppered with music, humour, and pathos. We laugh with him but also want to save him from the terrible situation in which he finds himself. It is a compelling tale, with all of the characters dramatically portrayed by Dean. The pacing could be a bit quicker to better engage the audience. With some crafting of the script, it could be more powerful. However, the story is riveting and the telling of it by a strong actor keeps us engaged. It is definitely worth seeing the show to hear this incredible story told by the person who experienced it.
We leave the show thinking about our own moral dilemmas. How do we manage difficult choices? What does it take to hold steadfast to our goals and dreams and not be distracted by naysayers? How would we have handled the tough choices like Dean had to make? Dean doesn’t give us answers but encourages us to think about our own challenges.
Dean’s underlying message: do what you love and don’t sell out for money. By baring his sole dramatically, he is doing exactly that.