By Joe Straw
Ghostlands of an Urban NDN (slang for Indian) written and performed by Robert Owens-Greygrass is an interesting mix of philosophies and musings of an urban mixed-raced American Indian. It is directed by Kevin Sifuentes and is playing in repertory with Walking on Turtle Island at the Autry in Griffith Park.
One-person shows are generally a collection that highlights the person’s walk through the journey of life. My personal preference is to see actors relate to other actors rather than one actor playing a multitude of characters in various incarnations and venues.
Still one-person shows can work. Whoopie Goldberg and Lili Tomlin have done one-person shows very successfully. On a lesser scale, Mina Olivera in “LOL Latina on the Loose” and Debra Ehrhardt in “Jamaica Farwell” have presented some amazing work.
Robert Owens-Greygrass does his own brand of storytelling and is very successful in his own right. He is a wonderful raconteur, a man on an intelligent progressive mission, and a man who wants to open your eyes to what is going on around you. He does this on a number of levels and is very successful in many ways. But are the thoughts of this man relevant to the destruction of Native Americans as a people?
“Listen to your dreams, they pass through the old days, these days and the days yet to come.” Written on the walls of the set.
“I am from a choice to live in happiness. I am from earth living season to season. I am from a beauty way of living.” Also, written by the wall of the set.
Presumably these are the word of Greygrass and they are wonderful words to live by and we should see him strive to do so. But there is a reason that he does not live by the words that he writes.
“Nephew, what caused this ghostlands? Drugs? Vietnam?” - The Vietnam Vet.
Missing is the through line that ties Ghostland together. The reasons why this person walks the ghostlands of today and how, in the end he has overcome the adversity.
Still, there are charming moments. In the multi-ethnic Greygrass, the white part wants to take care of the NDN and visa versa. Everyone needs help to get by and Greygrass' inner ethnic dual personality makes no exception.
There are times when Greygrass has had problems staying clean and sober so he meets with his counselor Ernest to get help. Ernest is a marvelous character.
But other moments seem to be interrupted by improvisational thoughts that lead us on an unknown paths. Some characters, like Angel, a teenage Puerto Rican girl who provides his first sexual encounter, do not move the story along and does not fit with the narrative. The story must have a conflict and the conflict must be resolved. It makes for a better relationship and helps us understand where this 15 year-old character is going.
Another is a Vietnam vet who is not the main character of Owens-Greygrass nor is he, the nephew. Yet both of these characters play an important part in this play. The conflict is minimal and the objective is lost without it.
There are a number of interesting characters in this play but under Kevin Sifuentes’ direction, we are not really sure which way we are going, how these characters move the play along, and even the relevance to the characters to the piece as a whole. These are minor quibbles and can be resolved with some minor additions and a sharper focus.
And you never know about these things. Maybe it was just an off night. You can see some of Greygrass’ work on YouTube. He is funny, charming, and a delightful performer in many ways.
The executive producers were Randy Reinholtz and Jean Bruce Scott.
March 1-18, 2012 at the Autry in Griffith Park