"The Frybread Queen" Succeeds As Surprising, Entertaining Drama
By David Gerhardt
Including ghosts and spirits on stage can be a tricky business. The director, Robert Caisley, and his cast do a masterful job of making the audience believe in this ghost, and force us to fear it. The physicality of the actors, especially Shyla Marlin and Elizabeth Frances, is spot-on and terrifying. Pair that with the dynamic acting by Jane Lind and Kimberly Norris Guerrero and you have a cast that pushes each other beyond what is comfortable for the audience to watch. The audience must witness them tear each other’s beliefs and values apart, which is both difficult and engaging.
The Indian Cometh
Dunn maintains that Frybread’s purpose is to end the cycle of violence that persists in indigenous communities and families that began with the coming of the Europeans and their genocidal conquest of what we now call America, or, as the Indians might call it: “How the West was lost.” Fair enough. However, Dunn’s verbal description of her play’s denouement, and that the survival of some of its characters escape an apotheosis of violence and go on to live full, healthy lives may be inferred from the action. But audiences aren’t mind readers, and Dunn needs to take her play, which has been extensively workshopped already, back to the creative drawing board in order to add a finale that makes this crystal clear. After all, Dunn won’t be able to explain what she really meant after each and every curtain fall, and again, playwrights should not expect ticket buyers to be clairvoyants. And ethnic nuances may fly right over the heads of unsophisticated viewers unfamiliar with the peoples being depicted.
By David C. Nichols
That said, each player has her tickling and/or arresting moment. Director Robert Caisley's staging certainly holds attention, as smoothly presented and flavorful as anything the Autry National Center's Native Voices series has yet housed. It suggests what "Frybread" might yet become with remixed ingredients.
The ending was a bit abrupt and undermotivated, and a final scene might help. But it didn't ruin the play for me.
But I do agree with the comments in the last review. The Frybread Queen has a lot of good ingredients, but they need some remixing.
Background on the play
Also of interest are these articles on the play's history and Native Voices' development of Native playwrights. They explain how you build a Native arts community: with dedication and hard work.
Native Voices Opens Carolyn Dunn’s The Frybread Queen
Frybread Queen Is Poised for a Breakthrough
The last article is by me, so it has to be good. <g>
Here's a paragraph that didn't fit into my article:
For more on the subject, see Frybread Queen at the Autry and Frybread Queen Explores Tribal Connections.
Below: Shyla Marlin, Elizabeth Frances, and Jane Lind.