July 31, 2008

Variety reviews Ishi play

Ishi: The Last of the YahiA playwright well before he became the artistic director of Theater Rhino, the nation's longest-running gay theater, John Fisher has long demonstrated a keen interest in historical and military subjects that's atypical for gay venues. "Ishi: The Last of the Yahi" preems here sans any gay content or interpretation. This tale of California's purported "last wild Indian," who spent his final decades as virtual museum exhibit, offers absorbing, imaginative analysis of thorny ethical issues. The only major flaw is a hefty length that dissipates interest after the strong first act.Michael Vega as Ishi:Though Ishi was already past 50 when he surrendered, Fisher has him played by the strapping young Michael Vega, who like several others here has to participate in some notably vigorous flashback chase/fight scenes that take place all over (even just outside) the Rhino mainstage house.Summing it up:Fluidly staged more or less in the round by Fisher himself, with platforms displacing two usual audience berths and no formal set, the show moves briskly through tactically and tonally diverse terrain.

But it grows less compelling after intermission, as equal emphasis on the Kroebers' domestic strife--while interesting in itself--detracts from the focus on Ishi. Some overly obvious final speechifying drawing contemporary parallels could be modified and a few uninspired song interludes excised.
Comment:  Everything else may be perfect, but making Ishi young and bare-chested is stereotypical. It leads to the "vigorous flashback chase/fight scenes" noted in the article and the accompanying image. So Ishi comes across as a wild savage who battled the white man rather than a thoughtful fellow who accepted his fate in a calm, civilized manner. The movie of Ishi's life apparently got it a lot more right than Fisher's play did.

For more on the subject, see Ishi, The Last of His Tribe and Native Plays and Other Stage Shows.

No comments: