I caught the final weekend of The Native Voices world Premiere of They Don't Talk Back written by Frank Henry Kaash Katasse and directed by Randy Reinholz. The story follows a young city boy to a rural Alaskan Village to live with his Tlingit grandparents.
They Don't Talk Back is a different kind of performance, more of play interspersed with poetic and hip-hop monologues which serve to get us inside the characters.
They Don't Talk Back is a humorous clash of cultures, coupled with a love story which touches society's lack of humanity in dealing with vets who return from war. The result is a thoughtful and insightful performance that sticks with you. I would see it again.
After growing up among very Americanized Cherokee, I spent many years on the Navajo Nation as well as time on the Southern Ute and Jicarilla Apache Nations. I am at home with those cultures and I found great similarities with those presented in this play. My friend who is from England had a more difficult time wrapping her head around the production. She enjoyed the traditional aspects the best where I enjoyed the poetic interludes the best.
The performance starts with Duane Minard speaking in Tlinget language poem about his love for his wife. It was quite beautiful and moving. And then we follow him into the scene.
Jennifer Bobiwash plays the part of Linda. She speaks in that hesitating way that our native mothers speak when translating in their heads to the English. Immediately I felt right at home whereas my English friend thought it was poor acting. Afterwards we had a wonderful conversation about Shakespeare and how an "outsider" might view a traditional Shakespearian performance verses how she saw this one. Both are rather stylistic in presentation.
The story unfolds in a rather organic way-much as if it's being told. I was brought into the story and came to care about the characters they portrayed. Duane Minard plays Paul, husband of Linda. He is stern and knows his way. Kholan Studi plays Edward, grandson of Linda and Paul who lives with them. A sensitive performance gives insight to being comfortable where you are without explanation to counter. Roman Zaragoza plays Nick the "apple" (Red on the outside-white on the inside) grandson who comes from the city to live with them. He can't understand the why of his grandparents and cousin but comes to miss what they have as he leaves to rejoin his own family. Biran Pagaq Wescott plays the role of the preacher as well as the prodigal son and Edward's father Tim, a Kuwait war vet suffering from PSD who comes and goes. (The Native Americans join the military in high numbers. A Navajo youth was the first casualty of the Second Gulf War.)
The set was well dressed and the way the actors moved and used the stage was very nice. I was however distracted by the amount of projection onto the screen behind the actors. I felt it detracted from the actor's performances especially in some of the monologues. If they had been brought in later would have been an improvement. The projections served to announce what the monologue was going to be about rather than allowing us to be slowly drawn into their story. It was especially noticeable when the character Tim speaks of his time in the Gulf. However in the dance where Nick gets washed overboard and there were no words, I felt the projections added.
At the end of the play the character Paul again recites the poem about his wife, but this time in English. Romantic that I am, tears poured from my eyes as they are now just remembering. But then he leaves us with laughter that comes thru fond memories.
I very much enjoyed this play. If the chance arises to see it again, I highly recommend it.