New Native American Drama (Hanay Geiogamah)

This collection consists of three of Geiogamah’s plays: The Body Indian, Foghorn, and 49. This was my second reading of the collection, and it was a very different experience.

The first time I read The Body Indian, I had a really strong reaction against it. I remember being quite horrified at the way Bobby was repeatedly “rolled” by these people who claim to be his friends and/or kin…so horrified that I’m not sure I picked up on some of the other aspects of the play. This time around, I was a lot more interested by Geiogamah’s stage directions, and his focus on the hodgepodge of relationships between the characters…as well as what these relationships mean with regards to the characters’ actions. The strongest example of this is Howard’s order (plot spoiler!!) that Bobby’s leg be removed and pawned for money to buy wine with. The action is abhorrent…but the words are tender. Howard reminds everyone else that Bobby gets the DTs when he goes without drink for too long, and actually quotes Bobby’s words from a previous incident where he talked about how horrible he felt during that process. The first time I read it, I was full of incriminating anger against Howard…but this time, I wasn’t so sure. James is the only one who expresses disgust at Howard’s actions, but he goes along with it anyway — not to mention, James is a pretty despicable character himself, and unlike the others who seem unaware of what they’ve done, James is very conscious of having robbed Bobby so he could go out for a night on the town. There was much more “gray” in my reading this time around, and Geiogamah’s plays left me with a lot more to ponder.

When it comes to Foghorn, Geiogamah was undeniably heavy-handed in his politicking. Of course, the first time I read it I was upset by The Body Indian and Foghorn gave me the perfect way to vent my anger. This time, I was a little disappointed by the aggression of Geiogamah’s critique because I thought his message was weakened a bit by scenes such as the one where the bull is wiping his butt with the broken treaties. Interesting, certainly, but so over-the-top mildly-tasteless in its comedy that it’s hard to take it seriously (this without having seen it in person, to be fair). At the same time, I still enjoyed most of the scenes, and found it an interesting and important play for what it has to say about the history of Native American relations in the good ol’ US of A.

Finally, there’s 49. Similar to the first time I read this, I struggled to figure out what Geiogamah was trying to say. This time around, however, I was really struck by the contradictions inherent in the policemen’s actions: they’re working really hard to surround these kids and set up a flawless sting-style operation, but when a group of teenagers gets in an accident on one of the country roads very close to the 49, there’s no response from law enforcement. Of course, it could be argued that nobody called it in, these were the days before cell phones, etc., but since the police had the location completely surrounded from all directions it opens up some questions about whether or not they knew, why they didn’t respond, and what their true purposes are (they continue to let on that they’re doing this for the good of the kids and the public, but they simultaneously rattle off numbers of jailed Indians like a sleezeball counting up the notches on his bed). In other words, I left with a lot more to think about this time around.

*Note: While the book that includes these three plays was published in 1980, I’ve categorized the text under the 1970’s because of the original performance dates of the plays. The Body Indian was first performed in 1972, Foghorn was performed in 1973, and 49 in 1975.

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