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A CurtainUp NJ Review
Taking territories by force and occupying by proclamation is one issue that is being addressed in courts. But it is the pervading lack of respect for the heritage, culture and traditions of the native American-Indian that is at the heart of Nikkole Salter's commendable and very well-acted play now having its world premiere at the Luna Stage, under the direction of Kareem Fahmy.
Acknowledging her Native American ancestry, Los Angeles native but now Bloomfield New Jersey playwright Salter has filled her play with passionate voices. Yet it is the intentions as well as the integrity of her four bristling characters that keep us involved in the story.
Specifically, it is the misuse of a native image that prompts an act of vandalism at a football game that fuels the drama. Set during the few weeks preceding a high school championship football game, Indian Head heads straight for the end zone right from the kick-off. It is the image of an American-Indian warrior that has been used for years as a mascot for the team that provokes Rachel (Sydney Battle) a 17 year-old Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape girl, who takes an activist's approach as a member of an anti-mascot movement. Admitting and taking responsibility for the desecration of the score board during a game, Rachel, who is a senior at the high school, agrees to the disciplinary measures that are negotiated by the team's African-American Coach Jeff Smith (Donivan Dain Scott) and Rachel's mother Patricia Murray (Carla-Rae.)
Prominently involved in the incident and its aftermath is the mixed-race quarterback for the Chipeekany High School Warriors Brian Kelly (Ollie Corchado) whose pre-game Indian war dance is seen by Rachel and her group as an insult. What gives the play it's emotional gravitas, however, is the loving but rigorously tested relationship between Rachel and Patricia. In a beautifully restrained performance by Carla-Rae, Patricia steadfastly believes that rearing her daughter to honor her Native American traditions is better and more effective than enabling confrontation.
That there are many sides to every story gives Coach Smith plenty of opportunities to support and value his team's tradition and its use of the mascot imagery. This is vital for him, especially as his dreams of bringing his team to a victory after twenty years could finally be realized. Smith's terrifically empowered performance as a dedicated coach, is enhanced by his convincing belief that football and its American-Indian mascot are emblematic of American culture.
In the play's other well-considered relationship, it is the coach's support and faith in the troubled Brian that becomes a central issue. Despite Corchado's winning performance, we also begin to understand the naive Brian's conflicted feelings of being used as a pawn. This, in the light of his eagerness to learn native American lore with Rachel's help. Blossoming in native attire (standout costume design by Deborah Caney) Rachel, nevertheless, reveals her uncompromised dedication to her cause. That a little romance hasn't been injected or insinuated says a lot for the playwright staying on course.
This brings another provocative layer to what amounts to a series of confrontations between opposing idealists in what is essentially an issue-based play. Another disturbing incident brings about more conflict. I suspect that the playwright intentionally and purposefully left room for discussion about what constitutes the difference between sacred and profane.
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Indian Head by Nikkole Salter
Directed by Kareem Fahmy
Cast: Donivan Dain Scott (Coach Jeff Smith), Ollie Corchado (Brian Kelly), Carla-Rae (Patricia Murray), Sydney Battle (Rachel Murray)
Set Design: Tina Pfefferkorn, Libby Stadstad
Light Design: Jorge Arroyo
Costume Design: Deborah Caney
Sound Design: Mark VanHare
Stage Manager: Daniel Viola
Production Manager: Liz Cesario
Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes including intermission
Luna Stage, 555 Valley Rd, West Orange, NJ
Tickets can be purchased at
Performances: Thurs at 7:30; Fri. and Sat. Eves at 8 pm. Sun. mat. at 3 pm.
From 02/02/17 Opened 02/11/17Ends 03/05/17
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 02/11/17
NJ Theatre Alliance
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