Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
FastHorse was able to confirm the authenticity of the flyer but nothing more, unable to answer such obvious questions as why would a native person agree to perform for the Ku Klux Klan and why would our nation's most well known white-supremacist hate group seek out such a performance? The playwright wrote What Would Crazy Horse Do? as a speculative answer to those questions, moving the time to the present so the issues cannot be pushed aside as an historic curiosity. The play raises important questions about cultural identity, cultural isolation, and the tension between maintaining cultural authenticity and a society where everyone is a blend of diverse cultures. To all of these queries, it challenges us to consider the role of hate in our calculations.
Calvin Good Eagle (Ernest Briggs) has abandoned his graduate study at Yale to return to the Sioux reservation where his twin sister Journey (Jei Herald-Zamora) is struggling with emotional issues tied to a suicide pact that took the lives of her boyfriend and three other close friends. Calvin and Journey are not Sioux but were raised on the reservation by their grandfather Walter, where they were the three surviving members of the fictional Shahota tribe. The play opens with the twins paying respects to Walter, who has just passed away, leaving just two living Shahota.
They are wrapped up in grief and indecision about what lies ahead when two strangers come to their door, Evan Atwood (Maretta Zilic) and Rebel Shaw (David Rand-McKay). They are looking for Walter, who had signed a contract to take part in an upcoming event for their organizationthe Ku Klux Klan. Calvin and Journey are dumbstruck. Evan is quick to point out that she is heading the charge for a new vision for the Klan, returning to what she claims were their rootsbuilt not around hate, but cultural purity. After all, she reasons with Evan and Journey, wouldn't you have wanted your tribe to retain its cultural purity and to have remained strong? She even has a new name for her re-branded Klan: "Free Americans."
Evan, a glib talker, describes her southern upbringing in a Klan family and her awakening to the need to reform the group so it can achieve its true aim of a greater America where all races are accepted, as long as they keep to themselves. Rebel doesn't say much, but it is clear that he is still working on embracing the Klan's new direction and abandoning its focus on hate. He has a short fuse, ready to take the conflict up a notch with the least provocation. Bringing Rebel around to her new vision of the Klan seams to be Evan's project, though it doesn't hurt to have his muscle at her side.
Calvin and Journey are having none of it, but Walter did sign a contractand accept payment. The twins must either pay back the $20,000 or make good on Walter's contract. After violence flares up, everyone finds themselves in a tough position, looking for a way to get what they need out of the stand-off. And for Calvin and Journey, figuring out what they need is part of their dilemma.
What Would Crazy Horse Do? feels like a work in progress, one in need of some tightening in both narrative and dialogue, and that would benefit from a more dynamic staging by director Brian Joyce in order to keep its quartet of characters more sharply engaged with one another and their actions feel more natural. For example, there are scenes in which two characters speak at length while the two others wait passively on stage, neither moving nor reacting to what the others are saying, looking nothing like an actual high-tension situation. The play runs into some flaws in its logic as well: At one juncture there is an urgent need for medical attention which is never addressed, and the resolution of the conflict, when it comes, feels too abrupt a departure from all that preceded it.
That said, the questions raised give the play depth and urgency. Calvin and Journey are at odds in spite of the deep bond between them: one left the reservation to seek knowledge at Yale, a model of establishment power bases, while the other remained chained to the depression and defeatism of life on the reservation. Of the two KKK members, Evan tries to verbalize her way into rationalizing the white supremacy at its core, while Rebel works from his feelings, whichin spite of his curt demeanorare the source of his moral compass.
The four actors do their best to enliven the play, having more success when simply talking. A scene in which Rebel shares his experience with PTSD with Journey, while she sits on the floor distractedly playing solitaire, works beautifully, and Rand-McKay admirably persuades us that the irritable Rebel has a tender side. Zilic is effective in presenting her memorized talking points about her plans for reforming the Klan, and Herald-Zamora is moving when she describes the violent death of her four close friends. However, the cast comes up short when quick action is called for, as if the required movements have not quite been internalized.
For all the flaws in the play and its staging, there is much in What Would Crazy Horse Do? that warrants a continued investment of time and craft. FastHorse has come upon a trigger to an important conversation that brings up painful feelings and potentially unpopular solutions to some of our toughest societal problems. This is not material to shy away from, but to seize, further develop, and to stage with even greater attention to the challenges inherent in the play.
Late in the play, Calvin says, in a voice of defeat, "We have been fighting against people who don't even know we are here. We are nothing. We are mulch". That is powerful language and a challenging statement that makes the case for What Would Crazy Horse Do? to be nurtured and to blossom.
What Would Crazy Horse Do?, a Turtle Theater Collective production, ran from July 10-14, 2019, at the Mixed Blood Theatre in Minneapolis MN. For more information about Turtle Theater Collective visit their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/TurtleTheaterCollective/.
Playwright: Larissa FastHorse; Director: Brian Joyce; Lighting Design: Mitchell Frazier; Costume Design: Sarah Bahr; Sound Design: David Lewis-Frazier; Costume Consultant: Barb Portinga; Props Master: Sarah Salisbury; Stage Manager: Katie Johns; Producers: Ernest Briggs and Marisa Carr.
Cast: Ernest Briggs (Calvin Good Eagle), Jei Herald-Zamora (Journey Good Eagle), David Rand-McKay (Rebel Shaw), Maretta Zilic (Evan Atwood).