Writer & Director: Murielle Borst-Tarrant
Reviewer: Jamie Rosler
There are several uncomfortable conversations that should be had by the United States of America, as a nation. One could easily point out that the U.S.A. is built on certain European ideals and beliefs, the acting out of which forms the foundation of the longest-lasting and arguably least had uncomfortable conversation. Don’t Feed the Indians: A Divine Comedy Pageant! is a bold, honest, thought-provoking piece of work from Safe Harbors Indigenous Collective Project running in La Mama’s downstairs theatre.
With a loose narrative that revolves around a traveling family of Native American entertainers, and a sort of three-act structure inspired by Dante’s Inferno (as illustrated by the headings Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise), Don’t Feed the Indians is a parody, a political statement, and a heartfelt personal exploration. Set design (from Ann Mirjam Vaikla) merges together visuals reminiscent of traditional Native life on the plains (the most prominent example being a tepee centerstage, the entrance of which is used perfectly as an entrance for the performers) with the kind of tinsel curtains that are only hung on a stage that displays the farthest from possible image of reality. Truths about Native culture and the facades placed over them to appease the conquerors are in a constant struggle for primacy in the lives and world of these traveling performers.
Throughout the production there are images, often with text, projected onto the upstage curtain with the tepee. Unfortunately, they are often difficult to read, which greatly diminishes their potential effect. As a two-act performance, that simultaneously has and does not have a linear narrative—with the above-mentioned through-line playing parallel to skits, bits, and reality TV parody pastiche—Don’t Feed the Indians could stand to be tightened up. It does drag at times when a faster pace would feed the desired comic energy, and the emotional moments would be that much more engaging in contrast, but there are plenty of captivating stretches and an abundance of ideas to discuss upon leaving the venue.
The strength of this production is in its heart and its plea for the success of humaneness in humanity. The conversation is uncomfortable, and you should join it.
Runs until 19 November 2017 | Image: Maya Bitan