|When I walked into the Mark Taper Forum to see Palestine, New Mexico I was excited, intrigued and a little intimidated… I was excited for the world premiere written by Richard Montoya, who is one of a trio of men who make up the most prominent Chicano/Latino theatre ensemble, Culture Clash. This group has been creating and contributing to theatre for 25 years… and have hit their stride. They are fearless and current. “Palestine” is the 3rd Culture Clash premiere at the Taper (previous premieres: Water and Power and Chavez Ravine). What a treat to have them in our own backyard. They are “masters at capturing and commenting on the changing political and cultural landscape in America”. That’s exciting.
I was intrigued by the story. A female Anglo Army Captain travels from Afghanistan to an American Indian reservation in Palestine, New Mexico to convey the truth to the Chief about the death of his son. Instead of being welcomed, she is seen as an intruder. In her struggle to stay and tell his story, she uncovers a more accurate account of the soldier’s death, all while bringing to light the community’s buried secrets of religion, tribes and family on the res. This story tells of identity shifts and rethinking set notions of right and wrong. Intriguing.
I was a little intimidated by the themes as well. I sat down and immediately opened the program to read up on any background info, so as not to have the play sail over my head. I can handle a piece with war themes, which this obviously had, no problem. But my experience with Native American, Saphardic Jew, Chicano and the Catholic Penitente communities was not so great. As an outsider, I was afraid that I would miss out… or find this play simply wasn’t written for nor would speak to me, due to my own ignorance. Intimidating.
Much to my relief, the intimidation was unfounded. The single most amazing thing about this piece of theatre was its ability to engage and include the most diverse audience I have seen at the theatre in years. All concerns I had about “not getting it” vanished almost immediately. You don’t have to be an expert on the various ethnic communities or religions to be drawn in. The witty and topical references, the slapstick bits, and the intriguing characters are welcoming to all.
Fortunately, my pre-show concern of this being for the intellectual elite was not a reality.
Unfortunately, it would be a serious stretch to call this a successful show as a whole. As exciting as world premieres are, the shows are not always ready for the world. This show… not ready. There were fundamental questions of what drives the characters to do what they do, unanswered… there were several different styles of plays within the play that either need to be integrated better, or narrowed down. This show would have been better off shown at a smaller theatre specializing in the new, the exciting, and the still in process. If it was my call, I would officially declare this show a work in progress. Not my decision to make.
There are some great aspects to this show. The concept and storyline is bold, the talent of Culture Clash is obvious. Having the opportunity to see the Culture Clash men: Ric Salinas (Bronson), Herbert Siguenza (Farmer), and Richard Montoya (Playwright, Top Hat)… and Russell Means (Chief Birdsong) who is a bit of a legend along with Geraldine Keams (Maria 15) should be seized. The theatrical experience this particular show creates, the warm and fuzzy feeling of the communal gathering of all types is a rare treat. Frankly, Director Lisa Peterson does an admirable job of controlling the sometimes-chaotic script. Palestine does answer the inevitable, “So what?” in its concept, in its ideals, effort, and potential. If that is enough for you, and in the end it was for me, make plans to see this show.
Cast: Kirsten Potter, Russell Means, Richard Montoya, Ric Salinas, Herbert Siguenza, Geraldine Keams, Julia Jones, Justin Rain, LaVonne Rae Andrews, Michelle Diaz, Brandon Oaks, Robert Owens-Greygrass, and Kalani Queypo
Scenic designer: Rachel Hauck
Lighting/projection designer: Alexander V. Nichols
Costume designer: Christopher Acebo
135 N. Grand Ave, Los Angeles Music Center
Ends Jan. 24
$20 to $65
Running time: 1 hour, 15 minutes. No intermission.