Lone Ranger's trusty and ultra stoic sidekick, is --for some people-- the alpha and omega of contemporary American
experience with Native people. Others sum up their experiences with American Indians in three short words: "Dances
Truth is, most classical depictions of indigenous people mark them as stone faced, honor obsessed, primitive pagans. Thanks to a gradual dismantling of Western and modern stereotypes, we've started viewing Native people as the descendants of a proud tradition. And guess what? They can laugh and smile too!
Indigenous people and descendent immigrants alike "whooped it up" during the Tulsa Indian Actor's Workshop's (TIAW) latest production, "The Baby Blues," written by Drew Hayden Taylor. Taylor, a Canadian Ojibway, was on hand to see Saturday night's performance.
Written in the hundred-gag-a-minute style of Neil Simon or Woody Allen, Taylor gives the TIAW a work that is filled with both rollicking humor and finely illustrated themes. While the production has a "rough around the edges" quality to it, TIAW's actors breathe the unmistakable breath of life into Taylor's comic characters.
"Baby Blues" takes a glance into the life of Noble, an aging fancy dancer, played by Anthony Wamego. At 38, Noble has taken life, as Bob Dylan put it, "like a rolling stone,"wandering from powwow to powwow looking for a good time (which generally tends to include a few cans of brew and someone to share his tent with). In his youth he was probably a formidable competitor, but Noble's best fancy dancing days are behind him.
His intentions at the powwow he's just come to are the same; get ready to party, get ready to dance.
Noble takes a fawning for Summer, an over-eager student and powwow first timer searching for some "real experiences" with "real Native people." Summer is white, except for that 1/64th of her which is of American Indian ancestry. She feels that her small Native heritage is enough to allow her to see eye to eye with the other Natives. Taylor takes great pains to show that, Summer is not only white, but she is white and naive.
Noble also encounters Jenny, the gruff "been there, done that" single mother and powwow administrator and her daughter Pashik. Pashik, played by Nicole Wheeler, is a tough minded 17-year old who's just waiting for her 18th birthday when she can hit the road and be rid of her mother's rules.
Among the one-liners, slightly exaggerated characters and jabbing of mainstream naivety, Taylor injects one of several important themes: Sometimes, life gives us another chance to do what's right.
This most directly applies to Noble and the realization that he may have fathered a child almost two decades prior. After having lived his life like a nomad, with no attachments, will Noble take responsibility for his child?
Anthony Wamego tackles Noble with a sure comic timing. His Noble is a wry wanderer, whose heart may still be young, but whose body is in denial. The evening's best exchanges occur between Noble and the wise- spouting sage and food preparer Amos, played by Tim Fields, as both actors add a certain humanity to their witty conversation. Wamego also has some interesting scenes with Skunk, played by Robert Brown. Skunk is the young fancy dancer who reminds Noble of his younger self. You can't help but wonder if Skunk is on Noble's path.
Casey Camp-Horinek and Nicole Wheeler work effectively together as the mother-daughter duo, Jenny and Pashik. Camp-Horinek tempers her performance with right amount of motherly wit and tenderness. Jenny would rather strap a leash to her Pashik, than let her suffer the same mistakes that she encountered. Wheeler is quite convincing as the lippy adolescent on the verge of adulthood.
Julie Gersib's slender frame and height gives Summer a sort of lanky clumsiness. Her Summer is, although exaggerated for the sake of the show, right on the money. There's an undeniable measure of truth in her ignorance and Gersib makes the most out of it.
At times, the company succumbed to performance jitters and either forgot or jumped each other's lines. Director Merlaine Angwall wrestled a bit with staging by not allowing her actors to be seen during key performance moments. When the actors were in full view of the audience, the audience might have been helped if Buddy Wilson's lighting design had not cast shadows over the actors' faces.
Drew Hayden Taylor is among Canada's elite group of Native authors and playwrights. Most writers of Taylor's caliber would never consider venturing to Tulsa to see their works staged. Just knowing that Taylor attended Saturday night's production lent a special significance to the show. His presence was enough to fill the gaps in the production's technical elements.
Although the show also featured some "inside" Native humor, it remained accessible to a wide audience.
The show's greatest triumph is that it allows audiences a greater accessibility to the indigenous peoples. Even the most educated and aware find difficulty in overcoming societal prejudices and stereotypes. "The Baby Blues" emphasizes what we should already know. We're not that different at all.
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