March 09, 2014

Stand-Off over Cry, Trojans!

After the performance of Stand-Off at HWY #37 I attended, Native Voices held a talkback session. They mentioned the controversy over Cry, Trojans! and how they've tried to express their concerns.

Some reviewers have also compared and contrasted the plays as they finish their Los Angeles runs.

A 'Stand-Off' over Native Americana in 'Cry, Trojans!'

By Don Shirley"Stand-Off" is considerably more lucid than "Cry, Trojans!," which closed Sunday. "Trojans" began as a collaboration with the Royal Shakespeare Company for a 2012 production of the enormously challenging "Troilus and Cressida" in the UK. Shakespeare's play is set during the Trojan War. In that 2012 effort, the Americans played the Trojans as generic early American Indians, while the Brits played the invading Greeks (and, judging from photos, dressed in present-day military fatigues). Apparently the production attempted to comment on American imperialism through the centuries.

Returning to America after a disappointing reaction to the London production, the Wooster Group's director Elizabeth LeCompte decided to revive the material by assigning her actors to play all the parts on both sides, with the title "Cry, Trojans!," but also with the assistance of a tape of the British voices from the London production.

And so, at the play's official premiere at REDCAT, both the Trojans and the Greeks wore Indian clothes, while a tipi dominated the background. Almost any direct parallel to American imperialism faded - the conflict looked more like an inter-tribal Native war.

The Greeks were distinguished from the Trojans mostly by wearing little black masks atop their Indian outfits, which still exposed enough of the men's skin that the costumes (inadvertently? or ironically?) emphasized how white these actors are. They seemed to be white guys playing "Indians and Indians," as opposed to "cowboys and Indians."
And:In a talkback after the Friday performance, LeCompte cited a number of secondary sources she used in her research--books, movies, tapes, some of which were created by Native Americans. But there was scant evidence that she had talked to any Native Americans. According to Reinholz, "there are thousands of Native American theater artists, scholars, and community leaders easily available for art makers to call upon. We are not hiding in the margins."

During the talkback, LeCompte said a close friend--a playwright--had told her, "I wouldn't do a play like this without making sure I had a Native American in it." But, LeCompte added, "that is not where I live. I wouldn't do that. I couldn't do that." Then, though her language was vague, she appeared to indicate that she thought that adding Native Americans to the company would be seen as "who's at the party?" tokenism--"and that's horrible to me....Plus it's not about that. It's about everything bigger...We love the piece, we love the stories, we love the films, we love the people...We wanted to tell the story in this way and make it so big that this [lack of direct Native American input] wouldn't be a problem."

New York, we have a problem.
New Native American Play Feels Timely After Wooster Group Criticized for Using 'Redface'

By Jenny LowerWatching the world premiere of Stand-Off at HWY #37, Vickie Ramirez's world premiere play at Native Voices of the Autry, it's difficult not to reflect on another portrayal of Native Americans that was just presented across town--the Wooster Group's production of Cry, Trojans! at REDCAT. That Troilus and Cressida adaptation (which closed Sunday), has drawn criticism from members of the Native community and others for its "redface" portrayal of a fictionalized Native American tribe with a completely Anglo cast.

Native Voices' naturalistic production, directed by Jon Lawrence Rivera, couldn't be more different from the Wooster Group's stylized, experimental rendering. The latter was not trying to capture an authentic, specific Native experience, but used a pastiche of that culture as a set piece in depicting a soon-to-be-annihilated culture--and that may have been part of the problem. If the Wooster Group employed Native culture as a means to an artistic end, Stand-Off at HWY #37, though still in need of development, succeeds in portraying the complex, varied experiences of Native peoples as an end in itself.
And:At the performance reviewed, the actors held an audience talkback to discuss the Wooster Group production and why it matters to have Native actors portray Native roles onstage. As Studi observed, you wouldn't cast a production of Roots without black actors; whenever possible, the same standards should apply to portrayals of indigenous peoples. In that light, the very existence of this production and Native Voices--the only Equity theater company in the country devoted to telling Native American stories--feels like a victory.Why are so Many People Miffed about Wooster Group’s “Cry, Trojans!” at REDCAT?

By Colin MitchellWell it’s not because the show appears to be decidedly mediocre according to our LemonMeter Rating. Nope. It’s because a whole bunch of folks find this production’s use of “redface” to be incredibly racist. Check out the freakin’ rodeo of protest that’s occurring on the REDCAT Facebook page for the event.Then there's this difficult-to-understand defense of Cry, Trojans!:

The Cassandra Syndrome

By Guy ZimmermanBut what of the sensibilities of local indigenous American performers who angrily decry the racism allegedly at work in the Wooster’s appropriation of native American imagery? Here again, unspoken political dynamics swirl around the production; LeCompte’s decision to deploy a parody of American Indian motifs and tropes in her staging aims to critique the flawed representational logic of identity politics.Zimmerman claims Cry, Trojans! is a parody of Native motifs and tropes rather than a sincere but ignorant attempt to portray them. As I've said many times, if you can't tell a satire or parody from a straight attempt to tell a straight story, there is no difference.

In other words, the satire or parody exists only in the creator's mind. Or in this case, the reviewer's mind, since he's the only one claiming it's a parody.

Below:  LaVonne Rae Andrews as Aunt Bev, DeLanna Studi as Sandra Henhawk.

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