by Christine Okon
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NEA Fellow Larissa FastHorse is an up-and-coming, multiple award-winning Native American playwright, whose work is being produced in cities throughout the United States.
Students at Santa Clara University have the good fortune to premiere her recent play, “What Would Crazy Horse Do?” which is premised on the unlikely question, “What might a Native American tribe and the Ku Klux Klan have in common in this time of social media and ubiquitous presence?”
In the play, we meet Journey Good Eagle and her brother Calvin Good Eagle, two young adults who, after the death of their grandfather, are the only remaining members of the factious Marahotah tribe. They are overwhelmed by the task of preserving their tribal culture from extinction, but this is hard to do, both physically and spiritually, given the rampant depression, addiction, poor health services, and economic constraints that define life on a contemporary reservation.
Journey, passionately played by Christy Chow, is full of rage, springing from both the old and new growth of cultural humiliation, desperation, and limitation over the years. Journey and Calvin are very close and loving, looking out for each other, although Calvin, played in a steady performance by Christopher Denson, has aspirations to move beyond the reservation.
Journey is inspired by the spirit of Crazy Horse, the Lakota warrior who led Custer to his Last Stand and who stood up to the white man to the bitter end. By asking “what would Crazy Horse do?” Journey keeps both her own and her ancestors’ anger alive. She has endured a lot of pain and injustice, losing friends to addiction, accidents, or suicide.
There is an unlikely knock on the door, and we meet Evan Atwood (Maddie House-Tuck), a neatly dressed woman who could be a real estate agent, and Rebel Shaw, a big, gun-packing good ole boy played with gusto by John Michel Hansen. They have some sort of business to conduct.
Representing an organization that holds to the belief that black is black, and white is white, and “like should be with like,” Evan and Rebel manage to be wonderfully nuanced as they reveal common ground with Journey and Calvin. They too want to preserve their racial culture. They too distrust the government. They too want to improve their situation.
Evan’s grandfather was a Wizard in the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s. She is poised to be the first woman leader of the “new KKK” – not focused on hate and violence but rather unity and racial and cultural purity, and who is seeking to reinvent itself in the world of mass and social media. We learn that Evan’s grandfather conducted a deal with Journey and Calvin’s grandfather way back when, and that Rebel and Journey have both experienced PTSD.
But is this enough to establish trust? Are we witnessing real communication and transformation, or manipulation?
Evan makes a proposition that may solve a lot of problems for the reservation as well as create some great PR for the KKK’s rebranding. The dramatic tension surges when Journey realizes there may be a glimmer of hope to preserve their culture after all, to keep the Marahotah story from “turning into mulch.”
We are pulled into the heartbreaking realization that this may be another dangerous deal with the white man and not a promise of healing and unity.
In the talkback after the show, playwright FastHorse remarked how she appreciated the passion shown by the student actors as they worked the process to develop their characters.
Santa Clara University should be proud of this production. With this very solid student premiere, “What Would Crazy Horse Do?” is on a trajectory to become even more fully developed the more it is discussed and performed over time.
“What Would Crazy Horse Do” continues at Santa Clara University at the Fess Parker Theater through May 15. For further information click here.
Click here to read a TheatreStorm review of another FastHorse play, “Landless.”
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“What Would Crazy Horse Do” by Larissa FastHorse, a world premiere produced by Santa Clara University Theater department. Director: Courtney Mohler. Dramaturg: Cameron Wells.
Journey Good Eagle: Christy Chow. Calvin Good Eagle: Christopher Denson. Evan Atwood: Maddie House-Tuck. Rebel Shaw: John Michael Hansen.