AMERICAN GYPSY, SIX NATIVE AMERICAN PLAYS
UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA PRESS, NORMAN, 2002
GLANCY – THE WOMAN WHO WAS A RED DEER DRESSED FOR THE DEER DANCE – 1995
This short play is fascinating. It is
the dialogue between a grandmother and her granddaughter. The older generation
manages to survive the trauma of the genocide and its recollection and they go
beyond the Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome that comes from it by recapturing the
animal spirit that is in everyone of us. It is invoked, and conjured up both in
vision and in action. This animal spirit is called Ah’wuste.
By invoking and evoking this Ah’wuste
they are able to reboot themselves to what they were before the trauma. Then
they reboot to a state deeper in time and in psychic power than the PTSS they
are experiencing in the present. This rebooting so far away in time is of
course extremely difficult. The older generation can do it because they still
remember what it was before the impact of the industrial and commercial
consumer’s society had erased all memories of the past culture. It is obviously
a mental attitude.
The younger generation was born in
the present consumer’s society and they can’t remember anything. Then the only
way they have to recapture their Ah’wuste is to do it through the older people,
through their grand parents, two generations older than them. So they cannot
remember but they can reconstruct. They experience the same PTSS than the older
generation but they have to go through the older generation to be able to
reboot to some state before, or rather to reboot to a virtual reconstruction of
that state before. This is the essential idea that is developing among Indians.
You can find it in “49”
by Hanay Geiogamah for example, but that is only one example. All powwows are
based on that very same principle. Go back to music, dancing and traditional
dressing and you may reconstruct that older civilization you have been
ruthlessly and systematically deprived and pulled out of.
It is a short play but very effective
in showing how one has to bring their animal spirits out and assume them in
order to find their liberation. The Indian community can only find its future
in that mental, spiritual and supernatural trip. By supernatural I mean that it
has to do with something that does not exist any more and yet it has to be re-founded
onto some kind of firm ground.
DIANE GLANCY – THE WOMEN WHO LOVED
HOUSETRAILERS - 1996
This is another strange play
indeed. It sets three women on the stage/ Oscar a metal welder and sculptor, Jelly
a canoe weaver using strips of birch bark and Berta a story collector and
Oscar is trying to carve and weld
all kinds of birds with well developed wings. Just this simple enterprise is a
long story about her Indian tradition in the reverence she pays to birds. The
desire to fly and thus be able to leave this dirty and heavy earth, to get up
into the sunny and divine sky. The inability to fit in because of the
monumental size of her birds. She is refused by galleries and at the same time
she cannot find a big enough studio. They are kicked out of their studio at the
beginning because they can’t pay the rent. They end up on the road in house
trailers of some sort and they finally come to Berta’s uncle’s place where they
Jelly has another problem in the
fact that her canoes are too big and they cannot float. They can only be some
kind of decoration you hang from the ceiling or on a wall. She actually manages
to sell one or two from time to time.
Berta is another story because
she is a story teller, though first of all a story collector in the Indian
tradition, which explains she has many versions of the same stories. But her
stories are not commercial at all. They are in fact a way to escape, to evade
from the world and get into a world of fantasy, of remembered fantasy, of myth,
legend and imagination from the past opening the future, maybe.
As such these three women are
typically in love with one another and probably unable to live autonomously.
Each one needs the others. This brings up the idea that they are the three
facets of only one person, the Indian woman per se.
This impression is cultivated
with moments when the three characters just repeat slightly modified sentences
on a rotating pattern.
OSCAR: A wing
is a story with a canoe.
JELLY: A canoe
is a wing with a story.
BERTA: A story
is a canoe with a wing.
JELLY: I want
BERTA: I want
wren is queen of them all. (p. 26)
We see that for each one, what
they do is defined by what the others do though they want to do what they do
and not what the others do.
More complex is this instance
when Jelly remembers Edgar, a friend of hers who hosted her when her father
died and she was made unwelcome in her family home by her stepmother, though
she did not stay at her friend’s after a while. She went back one day and she
could not find but . . .
JELLY: I felt
willed him there.
JELLY: I wove
welded him there
BERTA: I told
stories of him there. (page 30)
You can see how from some feeling
that was in Jelly and kept in her by Oscar, it shifted to something that Oscar
appropriated to herself before Berta widened the evocation and established some
distance. What was a feeling became a shared experience and that sharing is conveyed
by the shift from “I” to “YOU” then to “I” again to stay there. This sharing is
also conveyed by the verbs used and the first letter of them, “felt” becomes
“willed” that is furthered by “wove” and then by “welded” to be put at a
distance by “told” and that distance is also conveyed by the fact that “him”
that followed the three previous verbs is pushed away from the last one “told”
by the object and a preposition “stories of”.
We then understand the house
trailers are a way to go away but also a way to set a distance between the
three women and their immediate past while they can recapture their cultural
Indian past. You can go away from anything but if you do not create a distance
between what you are going away from and you then you get haunted. And they sure
do not want to get haunted. This is marvelously expressed by Jelly when she
does love come from? I want to return it! (page 30)
The play on the word “return”
shows very well the distance she wants to build between that love she does not
want to keep in her since she cannot experience it any more. Then life is free
of the past and it becomes a dream:
walk through a dream with your birch bark canoe
walk through a dream with your blowtorch.
BERTA: You walk through a dream
with your stories as you close the studio door behind you. (Page 37)
Then when they enter this studio
and close the door of it behind them they are in their dream and the house
trailers they have used to come to this studio have become of another nature.
They are “our roaming hearts.” (page 37) That is to say we all are these three
women, we all have a dream, and that dream is in our roaming hearts, roaming
from the world of yesterday and setting a distance between us and that past and
at the same time roaming through the world of tomorrow, of our tomorrow, which
is our present dream.
The conclusion can come from
BERTA: Words are medicine for a
journey. Once the Indians sang to the sun as it sank in the sky to pass through
the underworld at night. But it’s the sun that stays in one place? It’s us who
pass through the dark in our dreams . . . A long time ago there were no horses,
but some of the people started having dreams. They saw the horses . . . they
spoke words to them. One day they went to the meadow and the horses were alive.
Oscar weld a travois to the horses.
Jelly weave a birdhouse.
Berta tell a story that sounds like a house trailer on the road. (page 39-40)
And the circle is completed since
these dream horses are going to be able to pull the house trailer on the road:
OSCAR: A dream
is a house trailer. (page 39)
All dreams are true provided we
have the mind that can make them true. And that is a fundamental dimension of
Indian culture: dreams tell you the truth about what is to happen.
DIANE GLANCY – AMERICAN GYPSY - 2001
This play goes a lot farther than
what Diane Glancy says in her introduction:
Gypsy is a Native American who knows migrations and restlessness.”
In America Indians are rootless
because they have been uprooted. They have been deculturized by the genocide
and the exclusion locking them up in reservations and strangely enough it put
most of them on the roads with no roots but with bikes to perambulate aimlessly
They have been acculturated into
Christianity and they become white, hence chickens under Jesus the chicken
herder. They did not even have to grow the feathers they were already wearing.
Then they have to live with
mortgages and banks that repossess their houses when they can’t pay putting them
back on the road. It is a constant story of migration. You marry a sailor and
you have to move to the East Coast and you’re parked in a military base.
Migrations that bring you to
places where you are tied up till you have to move again though you do not
decide. It comes to you. It’s fate.
Like Titomo killed by his own
bullet that falls back onto and into his skull punishing him for shooting in
the sky like the old western proverb says about spitting up in the air and
always getting it back on your face. Even the cemetery is not final since then
you move to the next world.
But that’s the surface. The play
is also a strong satire of the American and Christian society they have to live
in and integrate into.
The chickens (white Indians as
well as the birds you eat fried or not, southern or whatever in restaurants)
are a metaphor or are submitted to a metaphor, one way or the other. The
chickens are the white Christianized Indians and they are equated to angels,
those Christian flying winged beings who don’t wear underwear and under whose
skirts you can look between their legs. The dream of all dreams: to make love
The metaphor is developed in all
kinds of ways.
But when you add the pain of
deculturation to this artificial acculturation Indians are gypsies because the
land under their feet is pulled away, the environment is constantly changing by
man’s own doing, they are constantly on their bikes escaping some fear or
menace, and they are reaching for someone or something they can’t have. But
above all they are left in their gypsy state with their stubbornness, their
determination and their selfishness. The author only forgets their loss of
their Indian reality has made them aimless: they reach out for something that
does not even exist.
Then and only then, the
conclusion is clear. The Indian chickens are like angels looking for a place to
land. But they can’t see. They speak meaningless words and they can’t hear
because their ears are stuck in their feathers as if these feathers were a
biker’s cap, these feathers they used to wear when they were still Indians.
Hence their ears are locked up in their traditions themselves locked up in the
biker’s helmet they have to wear on their gypsy bikes to more or less go around
unnoticed in that sort of conformity. And then they have visions, and we, the
whites, the Americans, the masters of this world, just as much as all Indians,
should dread these goggles that give Indians visions of another world since
they are blind to this one. They are dangerous, the goggles and the Indians who
wear them. They can bring a vengeance to the surface, or a change of fate and
That’s the only touch of possible
regeneration for the chickenized Indians. When the lightning strikes, now the
chicken coop of the locked up reservation has been dismantled, Indian chicken
will rise, or at least may rise.
DIANE GLANCY – JUMP KISS – 1997
It starts and it ends with an invocation
of Grandmother Spider:
“MY EARS TUNED
TO THE SPIRIT REALM
One night Grandmother Spider crept on the binding of my book, yet
my hand reached instinctively and sput out the life.”
Between those two ears plugged on
the spirit realm, the author impersonates a feminine character who sure has had
it hard in our world and in life.
She is reminiscing the past, the
way it comes back. And her present is vaguely evoked and it sounds more like
the dirge or some funeral oration to her grand parents who are far away but positively
seen whereas the parents are perceived as so dramatically tragic and hateful
that we wonder if she is not a brutalized not to say plainly molested daughter.
The mother is silent, cruel,
cold, distant and she refuses to give any love, contact, empathy or even
The father is seen as a monster
working in a slaughter house, killing animals in the worst automatic, humdrum
way, just as if it were a meaningless activity at all. He has no contact with
the daughter. And yet it is perfectly perverse in both her unsatisfied demand
for contact and the ambiguous if not promiscuous situations she finds herself
in, or she puts herself into.
“. . . The rickrack of the
basement stairs. Down there he showered and I sat on the stairs watching. The
first smell of soap against his skin when he came home from the stockyards. Why
did she let me watch him who wouldn’t let me do anything? His dark, hairy body,
the soap on his shoulders like crumbs of rock candy.”
That leads to a metaphor that is
far from being innocent and naïve.
“I would still
be the same sugar baby. The piece of fudge for him.”
She discovers one morning her
parents having sex in their room and there is no softening, explaining, just
“Go back. Get in bed.” And to make sure we understand a third episode is added
with the father having sex with the mother in the kitchen after work just
standing behind her while she is preparing dinner.
This promiscuity is more than
just that: it is a traumatic experience and, leading to sex or not, and we have
to understand incestuous sex, the thing happens and develops in her mind as a
child and we can assume repetitively to the point of being an inerasable
trauma. The trauma is just as traumatic when it is virtual as when it is real.
There are many ways of being soiled and molested in this world.
But all this is the result of the
lack of contact, of healthy physical contact that perverts such touch-and-feel
to the point that when the mother is at hand, “if I touched her I got
But the daughter has locked that
period in a safety-box in her mind, so much so that it only comes out in
“I dreamed once my father took us
to the barbershop to cut off our heads. He held my brother on his knee. I woke
before they got to me. But the fear – you know, when you wake still in the
dream and your flesh is crawling with chills – those chemicals released when
you dream so you can’t move. So you don’t take the room with you while your
father and the barber slit your brother’s throat with a knife – and now your
father’s looking at you –
“The wide eyes
and nostrils of the cows as they smelled death –“
And she comes to the typical
had to kill myself before I could go on to life.”
And that impression, sensation,
conviction, need is a perfect Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome that will rule her
future life. And rule it will and shall.
The second d way she manages to
speak of this past is through religion with the slaughter house seen as Jesus,
crucifixion, resurrection and second coming, all included in that post
traumatic vision of her survival:
“I believe in
the stockyards and the cows that suffer death.
“On the third
day they ascend into heaven.
‘They come again in glory to
judge the living and the dead, and their kingdom shall have no end.”
She can even identify to Jesus
directly by seeing Jesus assassinated by his own father:
“See Christ going up the ramp. To
the cross. So God His Father can look down and shoot the silver nail into His
head and say hey, you dead and in that death sin’s punished and then He gets
zipped up in a cave and comes alive and jump kisses heaven. On Sunday mornings,
the arms raised, the tongues stuttering, the glory, the power is all yours,
And the transfer of the trauma
into Christ is total when Christ becomes the child molester, the human
sacrificer in the Aztec style.
“But you know Christ doesn’t care
who you are or what you’ve done. He opens you like a pear. Takes His pearing
knife right down to the core. It doesn’t hurt. Does a pear feel pain? Have you
ever heard one cry out as you bit into it?”
The trauma of old has been turned
into a sacrificial ritual that is sanctified by the hand of the son of God
himself and his Abraham’s knife that immolates the son to the father’s God,
shame on both to have submitted that child to this trauma and let him live
after having been laid on the altar in the shape and with the function of a
pyre the knife looming over his chest.
“And they came to the
place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the
wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the
wood. And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took
the knife to slay his son.” (Genesis, 22:9-10)
The most surprising
Christianization is that of Adam and Eve, “The first man and woman lived in
harmony for a time.” But soon enough there was a quarrel and the first woman
rewrites the tale Cherokee wise in front of a field of ripe strawberries. “The
woman stopped to gather a few to eat. . . At last she gathered a bunch of the
red berries and started back along the path to give them to him.” The woman
submissively goes back to the man and brings what he needs to survive, i.e.
food. The whole world is nothing but a slaughter house and men are slaughterers
molesting women who submit to their power like so many cows.
She then is able to jump to her
second period in her life, which is a frightening failure. Failure with her
husband ending in a divorce. But after the son had a strange episode at age seventeen
of lung collapsing. The surgical episode that the son has to cross, and that
she has to cross too, is metaphorically associated to Moses and the Red Sea
and that brings back an episode of the father
repairing an inner tube when she was a child, him rubbing the inner tube to
find the leak. She is not touched. She does not get the contact this inner tube
can get from her father. And that contact repairs the inner tube. The lack of
contact creates so much damage. She longs for being repaired like the inner tube,
saved, lead across the Red Sea
. But there is
no hope. Divorce will follow with absolute isolation.
The trip can then end with an
evocation of what her sister-in-law told her about her father knowing how to
dance and what happened in a Christmas party.
She then regresses to her
“And I with my
shyness holding back, not going, no, but staying by his knee.”
She is nothing but a pet animal
crouching next to his leg.
And she can evade the trauma that
causes this submission by escaping to an angelic vision of after life.
“I’ve seen the dancing – yes,
that’s the word. I imagine my father now in heaven with my mother and grand
parents, their wings unfolded, their haloes bobby-pinned to their heads, the
great mouth of the universe smiling.”
And the final metaphor of the
pines hiding the moon that was only a transformed shape of the mother’s hand,
hence possible and yet impossible and unreachable contact. The trip is over and
the sad conclusion is reached. An old childhood trauma is never erased from
your memory. You can only transmute it into a morbid evocation of some
divinized after life and you can always express your rage and frustration by
killing a grandmother spider on your book spine.
DIANE GLANCY – THE LESSER WARS - 1989
A surprising play indeed.
Two people meet after each one of
them has been destroyed by divorces and when the woman has to go through a hysterectomy.
The man has already gone through a vasectomy. The double trauma of one
mirroring the double trauma of the other is maximal and the PTSS is
irreversible for both of them. The woman, a history teacher, rants and raves
about Christopher Columbus crossing the Atlantic
She is convinced that her operation has killed the child she wanted to have. She
feels like a despicable Medea.
The man just goes on with a
routine: dancing the fox-trot just for the sake of dancing the fox-trot. For
him dancing the fox-trot is perfect philandering. And yet he stays with the
woman through her crisis, which makes her grateful. He has children but the
divorce has taken them away.
The fact that they are coyotes does
not change anything. The fact they are identified as tricksters does not
improve the situation, though these two facts give an Indian dimension to the
tale, but that Indian dimension is really symbolical, symbolical of the
disorientation and vacuity of their attempt at being more or less, probably
less than more, coordinated.
The two want to be one but can’t
because of that PTSS that locks them up in their absolute solitude and makes the
other nothing but a mirror picture of him or herself. They can only live in
their PTSS shells. But one has to accept to be nothing but an image of the
other and to break the mirror so that the other will be full. The final
self-killing or self-sacrifice of the woman for the man to be whole with her in
his recollection of her is the absolute triumph of the most traditional western
principle about women, that they have to be second grade, they have to be
nothing but the reflection of the man in some mirror that has to be broken for
the man to be finally full.
The interest of the play then is
anecdotal and circumstantial because it just verifies what is a basic pattern
of PTSS victims and patients.
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU