Saturday, July 25, 2015


Bruce King is mesmerizing us with Indian heritage and the other side


Here are the five plays collected in this book. They all are mesmerizing and they all deal with tradition and modern times, with being authentic as an American Indian and authentically part of the American society. Maybe slightly nostalgic and problematic after so many centuries of uprooting and deculturation.


This play is about Indian heritage and how it haunts the present. It is a metaphor of what happens when you forget, lose or reject your heritage, be it moral or ethical, cultural or religious, or simply human. The scene at the beginning of the abduction of women by some kind of raiding party, four women actually, but only three are brought back to the tribe, the fourth one being used in lust and dismembered by one of the raiding party, that scene is there to show how Indian “justice” worked beyond all lies and escapes.

Jacob Nightowl is the being from the other side, the side of the dead, who comes back after the culprit and forces him to some kind of self-justice. But this episode is there to show Indian society had rules and that these rules could not be broken. To abduct women was part of these authorized actions but to use them physically without their consent and kill them, what’s more dismember one of the captured women, goes against the respect you owe them since they are going to be integrated in the tribe to bring new blood into the descendants. In other words the practice was one way to “exchange” blood and DNA.

The guilt is transmitted to modern day Indians and it is amplified by the fact that in modern American society Indians have lost, rejected and forgotten everything about old morality, about old practices and customs, about the ways and rules of the old times especially since old timers are gone now. Some have sunk into alcoholism. Some have gotten caught up in promiscuity. Some have been converted to some new religion that has no value whatsoever for Indians, in this case Christianity. One point is common among all of them: they have cut off their roots and a tree without roots cannot grow.

But past heritage, the beliefs of old days, the reality of Indian mythology and ethical existence always come back and haunt new generations who have betrayed their own origins. The genial part of this metaphor is that it is not really something material you can actually touch or see. It is something mental that works your mind into insanity. You start having visions, hearing voices and drum music, seeing an owl who is the messenger of old Indian heritage, of the other side of this modern society of superficial and virtual reality.

It is all the easier for Jacob Nightowl to manipulate these younger generations because they are all alcoholics and they are all promiscuous. Note the play remains within the dominant gender orientation. But the drinking binges of males with males are not far from a sublimation of the unrecognized, unaccepted and unacknowledged other alternative gender orientation. It is both a way to do it without doing it and a way to hide it behind itself. It makes that other gender orientation subliminal, and that’s the rub of the story.

It is this subliminal door that brings in Jacob Nightowl. He uses the fear of men in front of this unconfessed subliminal desire, as the substitute activity of binging all the time in alcohol, as the expression of women who fear to be unwanted, to be pushed aside by the promiscuity of their own men, as the urge of these women to take advantage of this promiscuity to love around which is in fact nothing but to satisfy their lust. Jacob Nightowl uses all these non-Indian practices and degenerative behaviors to bring them to breaking point, not the point when they are going to brake on their unacceptable life styles, but when they are going to break down and commit the irreparable, to just plainly kill one another to the last survivor, if there is any survivor. The last one realizing the situation around him after the confrontation will or would at some point bring himself down.

It just take some whispers from the other side, some drums, some songs, some recollections from the past for the present to be erased, dispatched onto its road to perdition and eternal roaming.

You can never negate forever and freely your own heritage that comes from millennia ago.



This play as such is pure agitprop against the Vietnam War but six years after the defeat. The action takes place something like one year after the Tet offensive. The essential characters are various draftees of various ethnic origins. The objective of the play is to show how the draftees can only survive by using some kind of derivative, subterfuge, drug, alcohol, or whatever. The atmosphere is over-macho and the relations between these men who are ready to cry for the one who dies, for the “friend” who dies, is permanent existential confrontation not with violence, most of the time, but with an extremely dark black humor that can be racist, sexist, or just hostile in any funny way. But this hostility is seen as a communion between these men who are thus negating the promiscuous situation in which they are tethered and locked up and that’s the only way they have to save their sanity.

The other type of people, rather on the side in the play though essential in the armed forces, is the lifers, the professional soldiers who live with some kind of military jingoistic ideal: to kill enemies is for them a fine art and the proof that they are real men. The draftees are by definition anything but men. You can imagine all the insulting names they can call them, in their backs of course, never in their faces because they are somewhere afraid of these “hooligans” and “freaks” who are absolutely unpredictable. Their vision and understanding of what a man is has nothing to do with humanism, enlightenment, tolerance, open-mindedness or Christian faith. A man is a brute that dominates the world, and first of all women as a lover or a husband, then children as a big brother or a father, then draftees as a sergeant or a commanding officer.

The play is showing how the two types of men in these US armed forces are in fact doomed to kill each other. Their hatred is such that there cannot be in the situation of an advancing enemy any other solution than kill the each other and one another. Unluckily that leads to dying in the ends of your own associates and the survivors will be killed by the enemy. The play gives a few anecdotes and one situation in which the enemy is described as a plaything you can insult, brutalize, use in any way you want and eventually carve to death with a bayonet or a knife or whatever you find handy at the time. That absolute segregation spirit against the Vietnamese in general and the Viet Cong in particular is also a cause of the defeat.

If you do not respect your enemy you are bound to be defeated by him because he will be more intelligent than you because you will act dumb and deaf and blind and altogether brainlessly. In a war if you do not think you are killed sooner or later.

There is little Indian stuff in this play except Breed, a man who cannot go back to his reservation because of the violence there, because his woman has been taken by his own cousin, and because the horror of the war forces him to be drunk every night if he wants to sleep and stop hearing the shouting and the yelling and the bombing and the firing of the daytime. He is also typically racist towards the Vietnamese, which is another way to keep some sanity in an insane situation.



A strange play indeed. We are at the beginning of the 21st century and the reservation is crisscrossed by new projects that go against old traditions. All the characters are more or less from one single family. That unity only represents the unity of an Indian tribe or of the Indian nation.

The stake is simple. It is one acre of land that the white American county next door wants for a highway to go through. The last owner refuses to give it in spite of the pressure from the more or less self-appointed boss of the reservation. He became the boss by becoming rich with tax free gas and cigarettes sold to white Americans from outside the reservation. Now he wants to have a casino and the license can come only if the acre of land possessed and occupied by Ethel Nickle is sold to the county. And there is the rub.

It is discovered that the boss – Radcliff – has eliminated some members of the tribe with sheer violence and that he has determined and closed the list of the tribe members who can benefit from the casino. Better be his friend. He is in other words buying the tribe. Except Ethel Nickle, the ghost Woods, the mute girl Birdie and the just arriving new member of the, family Bluestone. And a triplet of dolls.

On the other hand Ethel Nickle is the guardian of the Indian tradition represented by Woods who is today a ghost and was a wizard or a witch doctor before, the one in a tribe who helps others. He has been here in the house for a long time waiting for his time. Three conditions have to be fulfilled.

1-       The mute Birdie girl has to regain speech and song.
2-       Louis’s daughter has to come back (Bluestone from San Francisco where there are many Indians, where Alcatraz is not far away and where some men think they are girls, which is just slightly sexist).
3-       Radcliff has to change, confess his crime and recommit himself to the tradition and the tribe.

Note this last and third objective of three is triple and just similar to the objective of the Catholic Church concerning Indians since the early 1970s. The Catholic motto is “remember, reconcile, recommit.” Remember the past and the tradition. Reconcile with the survivors, the tribe and the tradition. Recommit yourself to that very tradition again and the tribe.

And that is exactly what happens with a little bit of “magic” and the intervention of the ghost Woods and other Elders from the other side. Birdie recovers her voice and her singing. And strangely enough Radcliff is regenerated and finds an epiphany. No one knows what is going to happen to the acre the white county wants to buy and to the casino that is supposed to be licensed on the reservation.

This play thus is a metaphor of the final stage of the rejuvenation of American Indians and ten years later Indian reservations finally got from American justice and from Congress the reparations they had been fighting for with no exchange of territory in the balance.


BRUCE KING – WOLF IN CAMP – 1998-200-2001

This play is a play on a play with a play in the play that is both a play and real life seen as a play, one more play in the play.

This is not typically Indian except if you take it as a metaphor of Indians speaking of Indians being Indians in the Indian society that the “new” reservation  is opening its casinos for the Americans in the surrounding American society. In other words seeing the play as a stratified piling up of layers with maybe threads between the various layers. But once again, even though it is the basic idea of Monique Mojica about Indian theater, if not Indian reality, it is not typically Indian and we can find this structure in many other theaters that are not Indian at all. For me this stratified vision is in fact typical of the theater of any school, nature or essence you may think.

To see, though, the complexity of the situation in the play you have to consider it as a real situation, hence speaking of producing a play that could make money. An Indian casino owner steps into the rehearsal of a company (it will be revealed to be slightly more complex later on in the play) with money in order to become the producer of the work of the company for his casino which means for a white American audience. And yet this characteristic of the audience is not even mentioned. He splits the company in small shattereens. And yet. The producer can buy the author and his manuscripts. As such he becomes the author or at least the copyright holder  and as such he can order the actors who are only doing what the script says.

But this “wolf” in the company, because he is a predator, becomes attracted by his author’s power and starts writing his own script. The actors are obliged to do what the author’s has written. They rebel but is or isn’t the rebellion part of the script? And suddenly they come to the cold discussion of the opposition between drama with passions on one hand and a simple glittering flesh flashing bottom bouncing show for a casino.

They become passionate and divided and suddenly the whole thing turns into a love drama of o man between two women when the man suddenly remembers how he was manipulated by the two women and rejected by both of them to the point of becoming murderous on the stage.

At this moment the author-wolf wants to intervene to stop the tragedy and he becomes an actor, part of the action. The whole circle is run and we are back at the beginning. A good drama remembers (for the actors and authors) real life (and it recalls this real life to the audience), reconciles the actors with themselves, with one another, and their lives and acting, and recommits them to capturing the attention of the audience with their passion that is both true and false, real and fictitious. We can note the Catholic perspective here: Remember, Reconcile and Recommit! A perspective that goes back to the 1970s and was vastly used by Jill Carter speaking of Monique’s Mojica’s theater (in 2009), without mentioning the Catholic origin of the motto that she gives as : “need of re-education, re-membering and repair.” The systematic use of this re- prefix (redress, reconciliation, re-right, re-configure, re-write, relocate, reveal, require) shows unluckily it is a rhetorical trick from Jill Carter who is not conscious of the anteriority of the figure of speech and of thought, which is present as a figure of thought in this play as soon as 1998.

I must admit it is marvelously well done, but after all what is life or theater, reality or imagination in this play? Is there a divide between the two? Not here at all. The two are crisscrossing in total continuation.

The question then is what makes it so special to Indians, if at all? Behind this crisscrossing total continuation we can feel a depth that comes from spirituality. We are all of us wolves in the corral of humanity and we can easily shift from victim to killer, from torturer to lover, from hater to exploiter and many other specialties, one on top of the other in a thick pile of layers and every one of them crossing and puncturing and shattering every single other one of them. Is that the trickster in all of us, or is the Trickster only a special character only the Indians can appreciate? Or is Sky Woman a character only Indians can see falling from the sky?



An Indian bar makes us expect stories about drunkards and winos, about fights and other misbehaviors common with Indians when they are in touch with alcohol. It starts like that during nearly the whole first act till one of the customers decides to step out and finds out that there is no outside world anymore.

They discover then this bar is a passage station before the Sweet Gum Bridge, before stepping to the other side of life. The choice is simple: you confess what’s wrong with you, what wrongs you have done and you may have the right to cross the bridge and go to the other side, otherwise you will be thrown out and be the prey of the Punisher, though it appears that’s nothing but a fake argument to force the customers into confession.

The two bar tenders, Ducky and Ki are nothing but the fateful gate keepers, Loon and Coyote respectively, two mythical Indian characters that Edward Sapir identified in 1910 in his Yana Texts, available at, and that Jaime de Angulo used in some of this books about Indian folklore (Coyote Man and Old Doctor Loon, San Francisco: Turtle Island Foundation, first edition 1973).

They bring the various customers to their knees so that they all confess their crimes.

Brave Eagle died of a voluntary overdose because he was a pimp and he discovered one day he had AIDS and he had infected a tremendous number of women.

Artsy was a liquor store thief who had gone to Vietnam and had killed everyone in one village, including a mother and her children who were begging for help. He lied then systematically not to feel shame, but in the end he killed himself.

Mable was an American Indian Movement militant along with a girl friend of hers. She was engaged to a man and was pregnant with his child when she discovered her girl friend was having an affair with him. She killed her girl friend, aborted the baby to make the father suffer and then killed herself with pills.

Sugar Lin was abused by her father for years when a child till she shot him. But he did not die, which she did not know because she did not care inquiring about it. So she punished herself in all possible ways for her crime till one day she shoots herself.

And though this second act of confessions is interesting, it shows how these Indians are just plain humans suffering from human situations. The only Indian element then is this necessary confession to be able to cross to the other world beyond this one. But the first act is a lot more Indian and interesting as for Indian culture because it enables us to explore the American Indian Movement since Mable and Brave Eagle were active in it. The play lists all the actions the AIM performed in the late 60s and early 70s but it also describes some of the typical “Indian giving” deals of the whites with Indians, particularly the poignant stakeouts that were accompanied by what was to become the AIM anthem.

“That song was an old song even back in the old days. . . to encourage those getting ready to stake themselves out. . . If they quit fighting, Uncle Sam promised to feed them by allotting them beef on the hoof at railroad stations. Indians would come from miles around. Being from different nations, they shared stories, and what little food they had, and songs and dances. . . When they realized the beef wasn’t coming. . . Greedy government agents didn’t give a rat’s ass whether Indians starved to death or not, there was a lucrative profit in healthy beef. . . Ain’t no sound more heart-breaking than the sound of mothers wailing. Too weak to travel they just set there and starved. . . Back at the railroad locations, manless, fatherless families starved. Mothers watched their babies die, then they watched each other perish. That’s when spiritual significance lost its meaning. No one was thinking about mother earth or being one with the universe. They lifted their weary eyes to the sky and cried … where’s the beef?”

That makes this play an essential piece of Indian culture and remembrance. And in this first act these customers and the two gate keepers are starting to chant this song of the American Indian Movement which contains no consonants, only vowels for all Indians from all tribes to be able to sing it since it had no semantic meaning at all. It was only a dirge bringing together all Indians in front of some relentless suffering and difficulty, in front of the loss of their culture, life style, world and eventually life. That makes the reviving of this song by the AIM all the more justified since they were trying to revert history and recaprture their old culture and vision.

That’s the meaning of this song, chant, dirge, we could even say gospel too when the American Indian Movement revived it for their actions: beyond stakeouts and death there is some hope and life to be recaptured, reconquered.

A great play indeed.


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