- Attending a play can be a visceral, moving experience. This is
especially true for the native play "Evening at the Warbonnet,"
which tackles the controversial issues of suicide, drug abuse, AIDS,
murder and narcissism in one fell swoop.
Saturday night, a predominately native audience that attended a
performance of "Warbonnet" left the Indian Pueblo Cultural
Center with an understanding of our brief time available on earth.
at the Warbonnet" featured a talented all-native cast: Kelly
Byars, Mirielle Begay, John Gates, Cami' Leonard, Ernest David Tsosie
III and Andrea Lujan. The play was written by Bruce King (Oneida).
Warbonnet is an Indian bar like any located all over Indian Country.
go there to "drown their sorrows" and "cry the blues."
play is based on the Anishinaabe (Ojibway) belief that people must
cleanse their souls before crossing the river to the afterlife.
wrote the play over 10 years ago during a turbulent time of his
wrote ('Evening at the Warbonnet') in 1989. It's kind of an old
piece. I was laid off from work and I was living in Buffalo, N.Y.
on unemployment," King recalled. "It was one of those
times in life where you say, 'Where did it all go?'"
veteran of the Vietnam War, King spent three years in the U.S. Army
with the 24th Medivac Company in Nha Trang, Vietnam. "Evening
at the Warbonnet" resonates with some of the atrocities of
most of the plays he's penned, "Evening at the Warbonnet"
is steeped in native culture clashing with contemporary times. The
play premiered in 1994 at the Institute of American Indian Arts
in Santa Fe.
whole thing is really about truth and denial. I just tell the stories,"
said he's been to bars called the Warbonnet in Wisconsin and Chicago.
However, the intimate knowledge he had of the Chicago Warbonnet
may have been the basis for his play.
Chicago (the Warbonnet) was right next store to a daily work/daily
pay place called Ready Men. It was a real dive, a real bucket of
blood," King recalled.
the play, the Warbonnet is like purgatory where patrons must expunge
their sins before crossing the river into salvation to stand before
the Creator. The secrets each character held onto with clenched
fists gave the play an eerie, stark reality that chilled many in
said the play has been in production in many places, particularly
tribal colleges, across the country.
so aggravated by current things that it's hard to tell human beings
to be good," King said.
ability to tell the issues of humanity through the characters in
his plays has made King a popular native playwright with native
Leonard, a Navajo actress who played the role of Mable, said "Evening
at the Warbonnet" was the most unique play she had ever read
by a native playwright.
drawn to the play, Leonard said she wanted to be a part of the production.
was definitely a challenge for me as an actor. She was loud, tipsy,
a comedian and aggressive. These were characteristics that I didn't
see strong in myself," Leonard said.
10 years Leonard has acted in plays and films, most notably "Coyote
Waits" where she was cast as Delbert Tsosie's widow in the
latest Hillerman novel adapted to film.
Byars (Choctaw) played the role of Ki and said his character was
one who liked to joke.
is a coyote, first of all. He is the trickster that lies in us all.
He is the type that is single and not afraid of anything, or anybody,"
said the similarities between the character of Ki and his real identity
is that they both like to joke and hear people laugh.
I'm not a trickster - Coyote is!" Byars said.
interest in film began in 1993, when he was a boom operator for
the Kickboxer IV set in Galesteo, N.M. In 2000, Byars produced a
film, "The Backroad," and played the lead role.
then, he has been in five theatre productions through the University
of New Mexico and the Words of Fire Festival in Albuquerque.
the completion of nine short feature films and one documentary,
Byars has become prolific in ways he never imagined.
Gates (Cheyenne River Sioux), who played the role of Artsy in "Warbonnet"
said he was blown away by the script and story line.
I love about the play is its honesty, the way that Bruce has captured
on stage what many native folk feel," Gates said.
is an outstanding artist. What can I say, I'm gushing with pride
that I had the opportunity to work with him," he said.
McCullah, marketing/advertising director for the Indian Pueblo Cultural
Center, said "Evening at the Warbonnet" was recommended
to the center by Maria Williams, director of Arts of the Americas
want to be the venue for Indian theater in Albuquerque," McCullah
at the Warbonnet" sold out for the show and a standing room
only crowd watched the play intently.