BWW Review: WHAT WOULD CRAZY HORSE DO? at Kansas City Repertory Theatre
Kansas City Repertory Theatre presents a new play by Native American playwright Larissa Fasthorse as part of its "Origin KC" new works festival playing currently on the Copaken Stage downtown. "What Would Crazy Horse Do?" is a timely and more than slightly obtuse meditation on the dangers of nationalism tinged with a sad irony as seen through the filter of a Native American lens.
The place is the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in southwestern South Dakota close to the Nebraska border. The last two members of the Marahotah clan, a set of fraternal twins, have just buried their Grandfather Walter. Journey (Roseanne Supernault) and Calvin (Christopher Reed Brown) Good Eagle are grieving. Journey, in particular, seems close to a break with reality. She pleads with her twin never to leave her. She wants him to agree to a joint suicide pact. He tentatively agrees to placate her.
Unusual visitors appear at the twins tumble down home on the South Dakota prairie. Only someone who has visited Pine Ridge can understand the level of poverty and hopelessness that lives the reservation. Evan Atwood (Amy Attaway) and Rebel Shaw (Jason Chanos) are searching for Walter. Prior to his death in an automobile accident, Walter had known Evan's long deceased Grandfather and had accepted $20,000 to assist her with reestablishing his perceived legacy. The money has gone to pay down Calvin's Yale University college debt.
Evan is the first-ever female Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan. Her vision for the Klan re-interprets what the organization has meant since Reconstruction. Evan's Grandfather rejected hate and violence. According to her, his message never called for "White Supremacy." His alternative message is "Racial Purity and separateness." Blacks, Native Americans, Jews, Asians, and Moslems should all live and be well, but in segregated and separate worlds. According to Evan, there is room for all these groups in her vision of KKK separate futures.
Journey and Calvin react negatively at first. Journey even shoots Evan in the arm. Rebel and Calvin repair to the poorly staffed reservation clinic in hopes of obtaining antibiotics to fight a possible infection. Calvin is swept up in a drug raid by federal authorities.
Journey meanwhile accepts the possibility of a separate, but pure future in a discussion with Evan. She comes to believe that her culture and history may be promulgated through Evan's vision of the KKK. Calvin returns and is so distressed by this turn of events that he commits suicide. The play ends with Journey dancing a traditional dance in full Native America costume as part of Evan's KKK revival. The stark reds and blacks of the KKK symbol puts one in mind of other symbols that have begun as a desire for separateness and ended with ultimate evils.
The point, although perhaps unintended, is to highlight the dangers inherent in the nationalist political movements now spreading throughout the world and the ways in which native peoples are abused over time. The most significant example now ongoing is the French Presidential contest between Nationalist candidate Marine Le Pen and Centrist Emmanuel Macron.
As odd as it might seem, the notion of racial separation is not as extreme as it may first seem. The West African nation of Liberia was created by America's founding fathers with the idea of repatriating freed slaves to it. The Liberian capital is named for President James Monroe. President Lincoln himself presented the idea of separation to a gathering of Freedman in 1862 at The White House. It is, however, as we have seen, a slippery slope.
Amy Attaway as Evan and Jason Chanos as Rebel are believable in most difficult roles. The flip of the KKK from what it has been to something that might be more acceptable on the surface is a difficult one and one that a democracy must always be on the alert to protect against. Christopher Reed Brown's Calvin is the connection to the real world. The lesson is that allowing a patently false, but initially attractive ideology to take hold risks everything. Roseanne Supernault as Journey seems uncomfortable in her skin, but maintains through the 90-minute production.
Director Sam Pendleton is renowned mainly for his work in choreography. He is the choreographer of two currently running Broadway shows including "Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812" starring Josh Groban and "Amelie."
The "Origins KC" Festival continues through May 28. Tickets are available through the KC Rep website or by calling (816) 235-2700.
Photos provided by Kansas City Repertory Theatre and photographer Cory Weaver.