Saturday, May 28, 2016

They Don't Talk Back

May 28, 2016

Native Voices Loud and Clear

In February La Jolla Playhouse (LJP) announced that Native Voices would become the LJP 2016-17 resident theatre company. Based at the Autry Center in Los Angeles, Native Voices is the first theatre company from outside San Diego to be so named and the only Equity theatre devoted exclusively to developing and producing new works for the stage by Native American, Alaska Native and First Nation Playwrights.

Friday, May 27, at the LJP Shank Theatre, Native Voices, in association with Alaska’s Perseverance Theatre, presented Frank Henry Kaash Katasse’s (Tlingit) impressive contemporary play, They Don’t Talk Back, directed by Randy Reinholz (Choctaw), who is producing artistic director and cofounder of Native Voices at the Autry. Native Voices co-founder Jean Bruce Scott, codirects Katasse’s play.
Jennifer Bobiwash and Kholan Studi
Photo by Craig Schwartz

A unique drama combining Native Alaskan experience, language and sensibility with contemporary mores, the production continues through June 5. It concerns a troubled teen named Nick (Rom├ín Zaragoza, Pima) who has nowhere to go. His father (Brian Pagad Wescott, Athabascan, Yup’ik) is a war veteran suffering from PTSD, and his mother (unseen) is an incarcerated drug addict, so he is sent to live with his grandparents, Paul Sr. (Duane Minard, Yurok, Paiute) and Linda (Jennifer Bobiwash, Ojibway), in a remote fishing village in Southeast Alaska. The immense culture shock is eventually alleviated by Nick’s bond with his teenage cousin, Eddie (Kholan Studi, Cherokee).

The characters are fully developed and each is given at least one aria to sing. Did I say sing? Yes, the two-hour, 15 minute piece has the form of an opera, with each major character – and they are major – stepping out to state their feelings and motivations poetically, leading us to a more complete understanding of who they are. The boys are especially lovable, but then, so are the grandparents, eking out a living as boat fishers of dwindling resources, having already taken in one grandson and now a second. The elders are set in the old ways, but who’s to say the old ways are not good ways? And that of course is the point of it all. We need love and family wherever we find it. 
Roman Zaragoza and Duane Mindard
Photos by Craig Schwartz

The acting is exceptional, with little “emoting,” just honest and forthright delivery. The staging is excellent, too, considering the simple resources. We are presented with an elevated living room surrounded by ramps and a downstage playing area (scenic and props director is Sara Ryung Clement), with upstage projections of the sea and the harbor. Costume designer is E. B. Brooks (Sami, Algonquin) with lighting and sound by R. Craig Wolf and John Nobori respectively, and Ed Littlefield (Tlingit) is the composer, language adviser and choreographer. A trim of possibly 15 minutes would improve the experience a great deal. Because this is the world premiere production, that may happen.

For tickets to They Don’t Talk Back call LJP box office at 858-550-1010.

June 7, 8 and 9, Native Voices will present Native Voices New Play Festival, a series of three readings as follows:

June 7
Fairly Traceable
By Mary Kathryn Nagle (Cherokee)
Directed by Jean Bruce Scott
Dramaturg Kelly Miller

June 8
And So We Walked
By DeLanna Studi (Cherokee)
Directed by Corey Madden
Dramaturg Shirley Fishman

June 9
Bears and Black Sheep
By Jason Grasl (Blackfeet)
Directed by Olivia Espinoza (Azteca)
Dramaturg Rachel Wiegardt-Egel

All readings are free; RSVP required. Curtain at 7:00 pm. Call 858-550-1010.

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