Sunday, March 9, 2014

Stand-Off at Hwy #37 by Vickie Ramirez

L - R DeLanna Studi, LaVonne Rae Andrews, Kalani Queypo - Photo Credit:  Craig Schwartz

By Joe Straw

Native Voices at The Autry, America’s Leading Native American Theatre Company present the World Premier of Stand-Off at Hwy #37 by Vickie Ramirez and directed by Jon Lawrence Rivera through March 16, 2014.

Closing March 16, 2014 – hardly enough time to get my thoughts together on this sometimes amazing and delightful play. But here goes.

The first thing one notices when entering the theatre is the marvelous set by Set Designer and Technical Director Jeff McLaughlin. We are at Hwy #37, in upstate New York, where it is almost hard to see an imaginary green line that runs across the set giving us a demarcation line, a line of no return, a line that is not to be crossed.  And Adam Flemming’s sign “Welcome To The Site Of The New Highway #37 Bypass” gives a very nice three-dimensional look to the set.

In a manner befitting a woman who has been around trouble, Aunt Bev (LaVonne Andrews), on stage alone, solemnly introduces us as to how things were with the Iroquois, also known as the Haudenosaunee.  Iroquois means, “little snake” and it is the name given by another tribe many years before the white man made his mark on these shores.   

Aunt Bev wants to give us the law of the land – she presents the Iroquois Confederacy, which is a compilation of the Mohawks, Onodaga, Seneca, Oneida and the Cayuga.  And one should also throw in the sixth, the Tuscarora, the Shirt Wearing People.  And in the middle of the Flag of the Iroquois Confederacy she presents the tree of peace. Aunt Bev describes the banner and how the woman are the voting council and have the right and ability to vote for a chief.

And then as quietly as she came on, Aunt Bev walks away satisfied.  After many battles, she must ready herself for the conflict that is headed her way on this lonely stretch of road.  And that conflict coming to their land will be the bulldozers to make way for a new highway on Highway #37.

L - R Tinasha LaRayé, Eagle Young, Matt Kirkwood - Photo:  Craig Schwartz

The authorities believe trouble is brewing so they send the National Guard to keep the peace. Captain Donald Hewitt (Matt Kirkwood) with two of his soldiers arrives in the early morning hours to quell any disturbances.  Those soldiers are Thomas Lee Doxdater (Eagle Young), a Tuscarora native, and Linda Baldwin (Tinasha LaRayé), an African American guardswoman.

Captain Hewitt wants to keep the peace but he gives instruction that no one is to cross the reservation line under any circumstances.  But this is not an easy task for the two young guards who are constantly battling each other in their own private turf war for guard supremacy.

And as happenstance would have it, Aunt Bev enters with Darrin Jamieson (Kalani Queypo), a ne’er-do-well Cayuga.  He is carrying a chair, which Aunt Bev tells him to place off the reservation land into the way of oncoming bulldozers. In her own quiet little way, Aunt Bev is a demagogue.

The cockalorum Captain Hewitt doesn’t like the looks of the situation getting out of control. And to add to this matter Sandra Henhawk (DeLanna Studi), a Mohawk, enters the fray saying she is representing the occupiers and wants the invaders out.

“Our people didn’t invade.” – Linda Baldwin

Meanwhile a piquant know-it-all but sagacious New York Times reporter, Evelyn Lee (Fran de Leon) enters the skirmish hoping to write a story about Johnny Depp and his involvement in the protest. Whoops, no Johnny Depp. She has been slightly duped by Sandra Henhawk who was hoping to gain more publicity for their cause. Deflated, at this point, Lee sees this as a non-story.  

Now, Captain Hewitt doesn’t want trouble.  He speaks to Aunt Bev and asks her politely to move her chair back onto the reservation.  But Aunt Bev makes pleasantries and reaches into basket for a tasty treat while she wiles away her time. And while she is at it she picks up ceremonial club and places it across the arms of her chair.

Not getting anywhere, Captain Hewitt states that Aunt Bev is not the innocent old lady she appears to be.  She is an activist who has been involved in other trouble spots for many years.  Still he leaves it to Thomas Lee Doxdater and Linda Baldwin to get Aunt Bev to move. But she’s not leaving despite anyone's sweet-talking words and no one is forcing her away from her spot while Darrin is around.

Oh yes, Darrin is a presence, but a very unreliable presence.  He’s only there when you need a body filled with testosterone and half the time he is off asleep or in his own private world.

Thomas Lee and Darrin were close as young boys but Darrin robbed Thomas Lee’s parents and neither man has forgotten. And in particular Darrin still feels the shame and guilt of having robbed his best friend’s parents.  

Although Aunt Bev, Sandra, and Darrin are happy for Thomas’ career in the National Guard and his accomplishments, they are none too happy with the side he has chosen. Darrin considers Thomas an “Apple: red on the outside and white on the inside.” This doesn’t sit too well with Thomas, as he holds his M-16 and hopes to get Aunt Bev to move to the other side of the line.

When Captain Hewitt returns and finds Aunt Bev sitting in the same place, all hell breaks loose, alignments change, and someone gets into big trouble.

Now Evelyn Lee has a bigger story to write about and is excited by the commotion going on despite the fact no one is willing to speak on record.

Stand-Off at Hwy #37 by Vickie Ramirez is probably one of the best plays I’ve seen at The Autry.  The play is filled with remarkable characters that see the immediacy of their present day conflict, and have a desire to resist knowing full well that progress is hard to stop.  Still, through strength of character, they fight peacefully to change the course of human events until something goes horribly wrong.  

And of course, I have some notes.

LaVonne Rae Andrews as Aunt Bev does some remarkable work trying to tell her story and keep the peace.  Peaceful protest is what she is all about as she tries to forge a nation whose paths follows a peaceful stream, like the symbol she presents.   Unfortunately, streams never follow a straight path and peace cuts a treacherous path.  There are many conflicted twists and turns and Aunt Bev has to think her way out of the problem they have gotten themselves into. Andrews does a great job making her point.

Eagle Young plays Thomas Lee Doxdater and has a very nice smile.  Unfortunately, we don’t see a smile or humor in his performance.  It’s something he might want to add. Still, he did a fine job.  But his relationship with his “brother” needs fine-tuning.  This relationship is a two way street.  But, Eagle Young must make decisions that requires an emotional build up of accumulated moments, that propels him into action, and that changes the course of the character’s life.   As it is now, this thing (and I can’t give this away) just happens.

Tinash LaRayé does an excellent job as the character, Linda Baldwin. The character manages to win the day, simply because she out-soldiers her competition in the end.  But this is serious stuff, and their relationship needs another emotional level so that we empathize with her and the other characters. LaRayé is marvelous in the role.

Kalani Queypo as Darrin Jamieson has come a long way since I last saw him in Palestine, New Mexico. Queypo gives Darrin a nice physical life and an accent that is stronger when he wakes up.  (Dreaming Indian?) Bringing up the robbery again after so many years must be like a knife in the heart.  But we don’t really see this action. The final moments require a stronger emotional bond between the two “brothers” in order for the relationship to really pay off.

DeLanna Studi does a fine job playing Sandra Henhawk, a woman who lived off the reservation but decides to move back.  She is not as competent as she wants to be but tries hard to come back and help her people.  There is another layer we are not getting from this character.  She comes back to help the nation survive, but they have been surviving for generations.  What more can she offer?  When she figures that out and incorporates that with her physical and mental actions she will find the other layers.

L - R DeLanna Studi, Fran de Leon - Photo:  Craig Schwartz

Fran de Leon is excellent as Evelyn Lee, a woman who is in search of the bigger story, no, probably one who demands a bigger story, or a woman who will make the story by asking relevant questions. But no one is willing to answer her questions and she has a hard time of it. Still she is determined to get the story and stay out of the way.  If she could only get her smart phone to work.  Leon shows us a lot of terrific work and provides a lot of nice touches with the physical life of a reporter, the way she questions a subject, and the manner with which she moves about the stage chasing the story. It is all excellent work.

Matt Kirkwood plays Captain Donald Hewitt.  As the character he is not heavy handed in his job.  But there are outside forces pulling his strings.  We must see more of this.  Also when the tables are turned, we must see more of his life on the line.  Does he have kids, a wife, a mistress he is about to lose all in the blink of an eye, or in the pull of a trigger? Something to think about, still Kirkwood does some very good work on stage.

Other members of the cast who are listed as understudies but did not perform on this night were Jason Grasl, Tunisia Hardison, and Shyla Marlin.

Vickie Ramirez, the writer, is an impressive artist.  The work is a fascinating blend of history and individual conflict that has been raging for hundreds of years.  Her work tears at the heartstrings and manages to say that progress comes in the form of peaceful protest and as humans being we have the ability of co-exist even though our paths move in different directions. 

Jon Lawrence Rivera does a nice job directing Stand-Off at Hwy #37. The characters are real, the pace moves along nicely, and he does some nice things with the comedic and dramatic elements of the show.

But I have some thoughts about the direction and writing.  Please don’t read any further if you have in interest in seeing the show.

There are relationship problems with Doxdater (the National Guard member) and Darrin.  They are regarded as being close like brothers but we really only see this in words not action.  Darrin has some big time making up to do to get into Doxdater’s good graces and the only way he knows how is dress in Darrin’s clothes and surrender for him.  But it is in this moment when the stakes are not high enough.  Darrin comes out, with a gun, hiding his face a little bit, and surrenders, but more should be made of this moment so that Doxdater sees his action and makes the decision to change his mind and help his “brother”.

Also, the relationship between the National Guards Doxdater and Baldwin should be stronger.  At a certain point, Doxdater only trusts Baldwin and together they try to figure things out.  This makes for a stronger emotional bond between the two.  (They may even be lovers.) When the results are futile and he chooses to leave one life for the other, it is not a very satisfying end.  The end of their  relationship needs movement, both physical and emotional.  

Executive Producers Randy Reinholz and Jean Bruce Scott bring another new and exciting work to The Autry and should be commended by their tenacity.

Other members of the crew are as follows:

Lighting Design – R. Craig Wolf
Costume Design – E. B. Brooks
Sound Design – Cricket S. Myers
Props Design – Misty Carlisle
Dramaturg – Jean Bruce Scott
Production Stage Manager – Tim Ross Davis
Assistant Stage Manager and Costume Mistress – Jennifer Bobiwash
Master Electrician – Matthew Barrs
Associate Lighting Designer – Matthew Johnson
Light Board Operator – Genetra Tull
Military Advisor – James Bane  - A very good job with the National Guard and the way they presented themselves on stage.
Group Sales – Kiri Stevens
Public Relations – Libby Huebner and Laura Stegman

Run! Run! And take someone who likes to combat injustice. 

Reservations:  323-667-2000 X 299

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