November 11, 2008

Raves for Salvage


(Wells Fargo Theater at the Autry National Center; 199 seats; $20 top)In its mandate to develop and produce new works for the stage by Native American playwrights, Native Voices at the Autry has a winner in scripter Diane Glancy's "Salvage," an emotionally searing perusal of one family's efforts to transcend tragedy.

Played out in a series of scenic vignettes, Glancy's one-acter insightfully delves into the psyches of three troubled souls as each attempts to cull the spiritual strength to combat forces that are gathering to annihilate them. Ably allied in this effort are helmer Sheila Tousey and a character-perfect ensemble of three.

Eking out a hardscrabble existence operating a salvage yard on the outskirts of the Blackfeet Reservation in northwestern Montana, Wolf (Noah Watts) depends on his work ethic and devotion to his wife and children for emotional stability. Wolf's adoring wife Memela (Elena Finney) is committed to her Christian faith to combat horrific memories of an impoverished childhood. Wolf's aging father Wolfert (Robert Greygrass-Owens), mourning the loss of his wife, is devoted to the ancient ways of the Blackfeet people.

When, in a moment of distraction, Wolf is involved in a deadly auto accident that kills and maims members of a neighboring family, Wolf's family is swept into a downward spiral of doubt, recrimination and vengeance. Glancy is captivatingly economical with scenic structure and dialogue, revealing only the essence of the conflicting interactions that set each protagonist on an individual journey for survival.
'Salvage' at the AutryIn this latest offering in the stage series Native Voices at the Autry, it's never clear who's to blame for the devastating car accident that jump-starts the play. Glancy is more concerned with that single defining moment, the lightning strike that obliterates all recognizable landmarks in an instant.

Who is actually at fault is of little consequence. What matters is that Harry Stover, the driver of the other vehicle, bitterly blames Wolf for the accident, which he construes as a volitional act of vengeance. When his wife dies of her injuries, Harry sets out to make Wolf pay.

The setting is a Montana reservation, but the escalating cycle of violence and retribution is as Greek as it is tribal. Passages of delicate poeticism are interspersed with scenes of striking terror. Wolf's tenacious antagonist is never seen. Neither are Wolf's two young sons, collateral damage in the escalating conflict. The action centers entirely around Wolf (Noah Watts), his wife, Memela (Elena Finney), and Wolf's father, Wolfert (Robert Greygrass-Owens).
And from an e-mail from artistic director Jean Bruce Scott:We had a fantastic opening night for SALVAGE! Even with Halloween we had over 50 people in the audience to see this stunningly beautiful play. It's the kind of play that will leave you speechless and then have you talking about it for days. I told Diane early on that SALVAGE reminded me of a Sam Shepherd play--and as it's grown and expanded it's become part Pinter, Beckett, or Bond--it defies description and challenges our idea of what theater is--and can be. And the actors--the actors are breath-taking. Director Sheila Tousey has masterfully crafted their nuanced and deeply rooted connections to these characters as they are pushed and pulled into the inevitable morass of revenge and loss. You don't want to miss these performances!Comment:  I wish Salvage was playing longer than four weekends. With the Red Nation Film Festival this week and G2E next week, I probably won't have time to see it.

For more on the subject, see Preview of Salvage and Native Plays and Other Stage Shows.

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