Review: Play sensitively weaves plight of native America with remedy

"Weaving the Rain," performed by Haskell Indian Nations University's Thunderbird Theatre, gave a near-capacity audience at the Lawrence Arts Center a lot to think about Friday evening as its characters explored their damaged lives in an Indian Health Service hospital waiting room. The powerful play, written by Haskell English instructor Dianne Yeahquo Reyner and skillfully directed by Pat Melody, acknowledges the harm done to native America by government policies, but locates the remedy in the strength and unity of the people.

The husband of Margie Two Crow lies offstage, dying of alcoholism, and Margie feels it as another of the continual departures: her refrain is "People just leave." She herself was taken from her family, never to see them again, at the age of 5 and sent to a boarding school. Lori Tapahonso invests the part with the character's anger and family pride, which the audience could see at times as tragic, and at others comic. For example, she tells her daughter "I named you Eve because no one could ever tell her what to do -- not even her God." Eve responds, "They punished her for that, didn't they?" Margie replies, to the audience's delight, "Ah, that's just a story!"

Eve is, in some ways, the family success, having gone to college and returned to work with the tribe. Carly Jo Blemmel strongly brings out the character's rationality and realistic perspective, and helps the audience feel her frustration at her older brother John's envy and her mother's suspicion of the "foreigners" who are attending her husband. Eve slowly learns the truth of her father's condition: He fell and lapsed into a coma while drunk.

Brad Horne does a masterful job of portraying John, a budding alcoholic like his father, full of false heartiness, anger, braggadocio and inappropriate laughter, assuring everyone that he'll "take care of everything" while backing away from responsibility for anything. As the play progresses, the audience sees that, like his father, he has suffered a loss of hope. Told of a time when families gathered together happily on their own land and told old stories, he says, "Now everyone's got the same story: about what they used to have and they ain't got now."

The play is filled with recriminations, as one by one each character reveals that the others always seemed to have an easy life. Michael, the youngest, is reviled by John as a "Mama's boy," always the favorite, never having any responsibilities. Joseph Gipp plays the part with painful sensitivity, revealing that as the "stay-at-home," he absorbed all of his father's emotional abuse. Roy, the family's great hope, who died in a car crash, appears to John and explains that he too felt overwhelmed by what was expected of him. Manny Manzani plays the part well, wearing a letter jacket and looking the epitome of cool as he reluctantly enlightens John.

The offstage father, like Margie, is a testimony to failed policies. The audience learns that, unable to find employment, he lost hope and sold his heritage -- the land -- to support his family. And Margie still carries with her a pouch of earth -- her homeland -- given to her by her mother as she was taken away to school. How can these uprooted people recover the land and the connections to family that they have lost? It remains for the character of the Old Man, hauntingly played by Dustin Wolfe, to point out that the land is still there, waiting for them. They need to possess it by letting go of their anger and walking the road that will carry their families forward into the future.

He explains that unity is the answer: "Weave that rain together -- make us whole."

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