July 13, 2008

Review of Ishi play

'Ishi,' gripping drama at Theatre RhinoThis is not the familiar story from "Ishi in Two Worlds" (1961) by Kroeber's second wife, Theodora Kroeber, who never knew Ishi (he died in 1916). Fisher takes off from Orin Starn's more recent "Ishi's Brain," and Fisher could be much clearer about how much of the play is based in fact. Though he stages his play with his usual proficiency--with parts of Ben Sherris' set among the seats area and some of the audience seated onstage--Fisher could profit from another directorial eye to help get rid of jarring anachronisms ("loser," "ethnic cleansing") and cut some songs, vaudeville elements and overstated passages (such as Ishi's Holocaust speech) that make the play's three hours sag at times.

But "Ishi" is a remarkably ambitious, often gripping piece. Michael Vega is magnetic in the title role. Kevin Clarke and Jeanette Harrison engagingly depict the intense peer-romance between Alfred and the tubercular Henrietta, with Pamela Davis injecting some sharp feminism as her suffragist sister. Matt Weimer is congenially disturbing as the empathetic doctor determined to dissect Ishi's brain. Aaron Martinsen, Jean Franco Pilas, Detroit George Dunwood, Linda Wang and Jorge Martinez turn in capable work in the large, uneven cast.
Comment:  Too bad they couldn't have found an Indian to play the title role.

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

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