Saturday, March 20, 2010

Tales of An Urban Indian by Darrell Dennis

By Joe Straw

Tales of an Urban Indian written and performed by Darrell Dennis and directed by Herbie Barnes at the beautiful Autry Museum is a fascinating story of an adolescent boy growing up Native and trying to find his place in the world.

Darrell Dennis as Simon Douglas is from British Columbia, Canada and manages to paint a pretty picture of a not so pretty story. Dennis is engaging, funny, and filled with an indescribable life force. It is a fascinating play, with engaging sympathetic characters.

But, the focus of this play seems to be on the makeup of the characters and not the journey. And this particular journey is moderately convoluted and not focused on a specific objective. If there is an overall objective, it is subtle.

It’s not enough to get in a car; the traveler needs to know where they are going and then, the traveler needs to let go of the wheel and let imaginations soar. (Figuratively speaking, of course)

The images of these people conjured by Dennis reflects his take on family and friends: all impersonations with Barnes stamp of approval. They are unique, in their own right, but strangely (and I’ve been thinking about this for some time) very similar to any impoverished community.

Maybe this is what Barnes, the director, had in mind. There are the boys; pulling leaches off their bodies, looking to get laid, questioning their sexuality, and looking to get drunk, crashing their cars, and finally looking to get high.

If a character in any play needs to be shown the way, that character is Douglas. He needs a mentor; if you will, to give focus to his life, but he doesn’t have it in him, the ability to accept help nor is he willing to accept all that is offered him. He doesn’t learn from the tragedies around him but forges ahead on a path to near death and destruction.

They are all specific characterization, very inventive and sympathetic. When each one dies, a stone is placed in memory of the fallen. (Note: The stones were placed on stage that was not visible to a lot of the audience.)

It’s hard to have sympathy for a character that continuously gets himself into so much trouble and mostly of his own doing. He digs a hole so deep it’s hard to see the opening and almost impossible for him to climb out. Still, if that’s your thing, seeing someone fall so low that you feel on top of a mountain, then this play is for you!

Dennis has created characters from his life that are specific, inventive and sympathetic. And when they leave this earth a stone is placed in memory. It is a powerful testament to memory and the characters that make up his life.

Listen to the remarkable Sound Design by Matthew Hubbs. Go to the Autry. See another perspective of life. Bring someone you care about and talk about the play. Enjoy and count your blessings.

Brandon Oakes is the understudy. Recently seen in Palestine, NM. (The blog is below.)

As always, Randy Reinholz and Jean Bruce Scott, have done a remarkable job as executive producers in their 10th season of bringing Native Voices at the Autry.

The parking is FREE and there is a Native American basket display in the museum part of the complex.

And everyone is friendly! Go!

March 13 – 28th.

The Autry

4700 Western Heritage Way

Los Angeles, CA 90027-1462

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