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Between Two Knees

A seriocomic history of Native American peoples from 1870 to 1973, the work of The 1491s, the intertribal indigenous sketch comedy troupe.

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Justin Gauthier, Derek Garza, Wotko Long and Sheila Tousey in a scene from “Between Two Knees” at the Perelman Performing Arts Center (PAC NYC) (Photo credit: Jeremy Daniel)

[avatar user=”Victor Gluck” size=”96″ align=”left”] Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief[/avatar]

The work of The 1491s, the intertribal indigenous sketch comedy troupe whose writers’ work has also been seen in such television shows as Reservation Dogs, has arrived on the New York stage at the new Perelman Performing Arts Center (PAC NYC). Entitled Between Two Knees, a seriocomic history of Native American peoples from 1870 to 1973, the show has played The Oregon Shakespeare Festival which commissioned it as part of its history series, Yale Repertory Theatre, McCarter Theater Princeton and Seattle Rep. The current cast of eight is made up of the original Oregon Shakespeare Festival cast, most of whom reveal in their bios that they are themselves members of indigenous tribes.

The title refers to both the 1870 massacre at the Pine Ridge Reservation at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, where the U.S Army killed almost 300 Lakoka Indians in attempting to disarm them on their own land, and the Wounded Knee Occupation on Feb. 27, 1973 when 200 members of the American Indian Movement (AIM) seized the town due to the failure of the use of impeachment to remove the allegedly corrupt tribal president Richard Wilson. Told in sketch comedy form, the play follows the fortunes of the indigenous family of Isaiah and Irma Wolf throughout these decades. These include reeducation of Native American orphans in Catholic boarding schools, enlistment in World War II, the Korea and Vietnam Wars, and the return to Wounded Knee in 1973. None of this is pretty but it all handled in parody form like an episode of Saturday Night Live.

Shaun Taylor-Corbett, Derek Garza and Shyla Lefner in a scene from “Between Two Knees” at the Perelman Performing Arts Center (PAC NYC) (Photo credit: Jeremy Daniel)

Narrated by Justin Gauthier who appears in various guises in each scene, the tone is set by his statement “you can call me by most sacred indigenous name, Larry.” Aside from telling the story of the Wolf clan first enacted by Derek Garza and Shyla Lefner in their youth, and later by Wotko Long and Sheila Tousey as senior citizens, and their descendants William (Shaun Taylor-Corbett) and Eddie (Garza again), the show includes parodies of Wheel of Fortune, Yellowstone, Platoon, Weekend at Bernie’s, as well as including music from the films Cool Hand Luke, Navajo Joe and From Here to Eternity and the television theme to S.W.A.T.

The cast behaves as though their material is hilariously funny, but like Saturday Night Live, much of it falls flat. Staged by Eric Ting, whose work is often seen Off Broadway, the show is exaggerated and over-the-top almost all of the time. The Grand Guignol humor includes things like Ina losing her arm at the Wounded Knee massacre when a stage hand takes off her fake arm leaving a ribbon of blood across the stage and into the wings. The Wheel of Indian Massacres includes the Pound Ridge Massacre of 1644, the Raritan Massacre on Staten Island, Horseshoe Bend Massacre, the Sand Creek Massacre and the Indian Island Massacre as part of a spinning wheel game.

Rachel Crowl, James Ryen, Justin Gauthier, Shaun Taylor-Corbett and Shyla Lefner in a scene from “Between Two Knees” at the Perelman Performing Arts Center (PAC NYC) (Photo credit: Jeremy Daniel)

The eight member cast includes Rachel Crowl and James Ryen aside from the actors already mentioned who all demonstrate their versatility playing 79 roles. Regina Garcia’s scenic design and Lux Haac’s costume design are both in the tradition of vaudeville complementing the show’s many short scenes. The many wigs and hair designs are by Younghawk Bautista, while Rod Kinter is the fight director for the several confrontation scenes. The original songs are by Ryan RedCorn who along with Dallas Goldtooth, Sterlin Harjo, Migizi Pensoneau, and Bobby Wilson make up The 1941s and wrote the show.

At the performance under review, part of the audience found the show hilariously funny, while others proverbially sat on their hands. The show makes use of history, parody, satire, burlesque, musical comedy and tragicomedy, never being consistent to any one genre. At two and a half hours this kind of parody seems a bit too long. Between Two Knees is a noble effort to tell the story of one hundred years of Native American suffering through the Lakota tribe, but it seems to want to cover too much in too parodistic a style.

Cast of “Between Two Knees” in the final scene at the Perelman Performing Arts Center (PAC NYC) (Photo credit: Jeremy Daniel)

Between Two Tribes (through February 24, 2024)

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival and Yale Repertory Theatre Production

Theater A at Perelman Performing Arts Center (PAC NYC), 251 Fulton Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, visit http://www.pacnyc.org

Running time: two hours and 35 minutes including an intermission

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About Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief (990 Articles)
Victor Gluck was a drama critic and arts journalist with Back Stage from 1980 – 2006. He started reviewing for TheaterScene.net in 2006, where he was also Associate Editor from 2011-2013, and has been Editor-in-Chief since 2014. He is a voting member of The Drama Desk, the Outer Critics Circle, the American Theatre Critics Association, and the Dramatists Guild of America. His plays have been performed at the Quaigh Theatre, Ryan Repertory Company, St. Clements Church, Nuyorican Poets Café and The Gene Frankel Playwrights/Directors Lab.

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