The Ghost Dancers
nytheatre.com review by Shelley Molad
July 24, 2008
According to the Playwright's Note in the program for The Ghost Dancers, between 1972 and 1976, an Indian puppet government set up by the U.S. Department of Interior and run by the FBI waged a campaign of violence against the Lakota Indian Tribe, threatening to wipe them out. The Ghost Dancers, a Stone Soup Theater production, brings us the story of the Lakotas (also known as the Teton Sioux).
Though coming across as uneven, The Ghost Dancers is a refreshing, educational, well-choreographed presentation by a beautifully diverse cast, whose commitment on stage is telling of a dedicated ensemble who has put a lot of work into a somewhat elaborate production. David Moyer's costumes are exquisite, perfectly suited for this piece and well-tailored to every actor, creating a lovely picture on stage.
There are solid performances by Galway McCullough, playing a store owner named Crook who supports the Lakotas (and seems to have come straight out of a John Wayne film) and Jennifer Boehm as Buffalo Calf. However, some of the other actors are somewhat rigid. Adam Hunault's writing feels at times forced and clichéd, with scenes ending abruptly at such measured moments that the script doesn't always allow them the fluidity to explore their characters' inner life; and a few slip and stutter over lines when accidentally missing director Nadine Friedman's precise marks.
Strewn throughout the play, Chris Wild's choreography and Galway McCullough's fight direction are well orchestrated. And the combined elements of drum and dance, when alluding to traditional Indian folklore, add a really nice touch. Particularly memorable is Seiko Carter as Wovoka, who nimbly dances and chants a beautiful song, composed by Ben Trawick-Smith, as is the sporadic percussion that serves to create an air of suspense.
The Ghost Dancers would be a great piece to tour in schools, as an educational tool for a younger audience about a subject matter that's rarely addressed. While Stone Soup Theater is clear about their intention to put up socially conscious theatre, their mission could be further fulfilled if they found a way to expand their audience.