EVENING AT THE WARBONNET AND
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.
BRUCE KING – WHISPERS
FROM THE OTHER SIDE - 1984
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
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
You can never negate forever and
freely your own heritage that comes from millennia ago.
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU
BRUCE KING – DUSTOFF
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.
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU
BRUCE KING – THREADS,
ETHEL NICKLE’S LITTLE ACRE – 2001-2003
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.
The mute Birdie girl has to regain speech and
Louis’s daughter has to come back (Bluestone
from San Francisco
where there are many Indians,
is not far away and where some
men think they are girls, which is just slightly sexist).
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
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU
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
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?
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU
BRUCE KING –
EVENING AT THE WARBONNET – 1994
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
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 http://www.sacred-texts.com/nam/ca/yat/yat10.htm
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
bring the various customers to their knees so that they all confess their
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU