Ghostlands of an Urban NDN

A priest working with Native Americans once told me his favorite indigenous joke. The U.S. Government named General George Custer, the famous Indian fighter, head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. And just before he rode off to the Little Big Horn, Custer told his staff, "Don't do anything until I get back." Likewise writer-performer Robert Owens Greygrass, who's part white and part Lakota Sioux, fills this powerful, one-man show—one of two Greygrass plays now running—with bits of pointed gallows humor.

This well-paced production also details Greygrass' personal and mixed-race struggles, his journey to clean and sober, his radical American Indian Movement involvement, his recovery/spirituality lecture experiences, the current struggles of urban Indians, and the beauty/tragedy of red and white America. This is clearly a labor of love, sensitively directed by John Christopher Cole. Greygrass' messages are delivered through the eyes and words of 16 characters. They include Native Americans, a German, an Irishman, a racist nun, and a number of seemingly ridiculous white dabblers-in-indigenous-cultures. Greygrass does a solid job of voicing these dialects and gender representations.

His anchor characters are Big Nose and a Greygrass persona. Big Nose is a rootless wounded Native-American Vietnam vet, hitchhiking to Seattle. As Greygrass' internal muse and keeper of his darker side, he regales his drivers with a nonstop recitation of the indignities suffered by American Indians since Columbus arrived. The Greygrass persona is presented in a lecture, stand-up setting. He safeguards Greygrass' lighter half, conveying a message of recovery, spirituality, and the beauty of indigenous cultures to white America.

Greygrass also effectively uses voiceover throughout the show to transmit pieces of native wisdom. And he skillfully employs a soundtrack of gentle, mood-shifting wind instrument cuts, some written by Greygrass and the Whistling Elk Singers, courtesy of sound designers Grant Capes and John Dials.