Autry's stage production explores Native American rights

Native Voices at the Autry National Center presents 'Stand-Off at HWY #37.'

March 07, 2014|By Lynne Heffley
  • Eagle Young (Private Thomas Lee Doxdater) and Kalani Queypo (Darrin) in "Stand-Off at HWY #37" performed at the Autry.
Eagle Young (Private Thomas Lee Doxdater) and Kalani… (Photo by Craig Schwartz )

In "Stand-Off at HWY #37," Vickie Ramirez's deeply felt new play presented by Native Voices at the Autry National Center, a protest against a highway slated to cut across sovereign Indian land sparks issues of identity, cultural tradition, difficult historic truths and present-day hardball politics.

Bulldozers are scheduled to arrive for the construction of a public highway on land reclaimed from a Haudenosaunnee (Iroquois) reservation in upstate New York by the United States government, reportedly due to the recent unearthing of an obscure historical document, but widely assumed to be the result of yet another broken treaty. Leading the protest is feisty Indian elder Aunt Bev (LaVonne Rae Andrews), an early arrival on the protest site along with troubled parolee Darrin (Kalani Queypo) and militant Sandra Henhawk (DeLanna Studi).

On hand to keep order and prevent the protesters from interfering with the construction are three National Guardsmen: Thomas (Eagle Young), a member of one of the six nations of the Iroquois Confederacy himself; Thomas' white commanding officer Captain Hewitt (Matt Kirkwood) and fellow Guardsman, Linda (Tinasha LaRayé), a young black woman.


Evelyn Lee (Fran de Leon), an ambitious newspaper reporter of Chinese descent, shows up due to a bogus claim that actor Johnny Depp will join the protest, and stays for what she sees as a big "cowboys and Indians" story.

Linda feels that Thomas' professed willingness to act against the interests of his own people is suspect; Thomas, who considers himself honor-bound to do his duty as a Guardsman, is nonetheless conflicted when Aunt Bev, with cheerful defiance, positions her chair squarely on the disputed U.S. territory. Thomas respects her as one of his elders and tries reasoning with her; Captain Hewitt attempts to remove Aunt Bev bodily, sparking a dramatic confrontation — and soul-searching — with far-reaching consequences.

The play, based on real-life events, hits a few conceptual bumps. It too often tends toward expository excess and declamations of historic and political import, rather than nuance. The characters of Linda and Evelyn exist as overt parallels to the historic enslavement, exploitation and decimation of the country's Native populations.

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