January 14, 2009

Aboriginal play says "Go away!"

Theater Review | 'Yanagai! Yanagai!'

Tales of Tribal Land and Courtroom DramaThe best moment of “Yanagai! Yanagai!” occurs when the house opens and the audience members are escorted not to their seats, but to the stage, where they are soon enveloped by chants from the cast members:

“We are here.”

“Thousands of trees.”

“They hold our spirits.”

It is a moment best experienced with eyes closed; you can briefly feel as if you are in the land of the Yorta Yorta, the indigenous Australian people whose experiences this unconventional play seeks to portray. The moment doesn’t last long—soon the audience is nudged toward the seats—but it’s a nifty mood-setting start.

After that, though, the play, by Andrea James, may ask a little too much of an American audience. It weaves together fragments of folklore, scenes involving Edward Curr’s initial contact with the Yorta Yorta in the 1800s (the play’s title means “Go away”) and courtroom exchanges from an unsuccessful 1990s case in which the Yorta Yorta sought title to what they argued were tribal lands.
Comment:  For more on the subject, see Native Plays and Other Stage Shows.

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