In 2012: The Musical, New Native Theatre (in collaboration with Bedlam Theatre) takes a look at our current society, and the state of Native American people, through the eyes of future generations. It’s an ambitious work that mixes broad physical humor, hope, sarcasm, and some great music. Written by Rhiana Yazzie with Inez DeCoteau and Andrea Fairbanks—and featuring original music by Marisa Carr—the play is directed by Yazzie and Maren Ward, with musical direction by Peter Morrow.
I’ve seen a number of plays by Yazzie in the past few years, and 2012: The Musical is definitely her best. The book has huge scope and Yazzie’s writing style carefully balances the humorous with the more dramatic elements. The show works best when the characters emerge as three-dimensional, rather than silly stock characters, although the audience on Wednesday night seemed to enjoy the physical humor.
Yazzie, who plays one of the main parts, is herself a lovely actor. She’s got a sweet, relaxed demeanor and a wonderful singing voice. She’s also the best among the cast at delivering her self-deprecating brand of humor. This show made me want to see more of the young playwright on stage.
The rest of the cast members have varying degrees of experience, and some actors are more effective than others. Inez DeCoteau is hilarious as the drunk and/or vision-seeing Grandma, and Lorna Her Many Horses proves to have a lovely voice and great acting ability.
The best thing about this production is Marisa Carr’s original music, which ranges from big show numbers like Franklin Avenue and Back to the Stars to the absolutely gorgeous Now We’re Back performed by Carr and Horna Her Many Hourses as the ancestors, accompanied by the ensemble. The latter song showcases Carr’s unique voice, a mix of opera and blues styles that has crazy resonances; she’s really fascinating to listen to.
I’m a little confused by the show’s design, or rather, how all the design elements work together. John Bueche’s set is made up of irregular geometric shapes signifying buildings along Franklin Avenue. Rather crudely painted, it has a high-school-musical feel, which works except that the lighting design by Ian Knodel utilizes fancy, professional-looking specials and moving lights. Also I was quite confused by the lighting design choice to leave Marisa Carr in complete blackness for one of her solos.
As for the costumes, designed by Annie Rollins, the characters are for the most part bundled up in winter hats, scarves and jackets, with the exception of one song, “I’m Special (He’s a Professional),” where Yazzie strips down to a pretty dress that shows more of her body. It is a great moment, and shows the character’s vulnerability; I wish that the winter clothing could be used more sparingly, because the actors sometimes hide underneath their jackets. Rollins did do a great job with the elaborate and shiny Ancestor costumes, revealed toward the end of the play.
Hosted by and performed at In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre, 2012: The Musical is definitely worth checking out. While it’s a tad long at two and a half hours, there’s a lot going for the show, with some great music and food for thought.
Read Sheila Regan’s preview and Jay Gabler’s review of Rhiana Yazzie’s play Ady (2010); and Sheila Regan’s feature on the controversy surrounding Yazzie’s short play The Corral (2012).