|scene is centered on the robbing of Bobby, the drunken main character, by his friends. The play is
further unified by sound and sight effects at the ends of scenes. These intensify the predominantly
naturalistic mood, which culminates in “horror” at the end, as Bobby slumps forward in his chair.
Although there is very little character definition and the dialogue sometimes seems forced, especially
when it is used for expository purposes, the play is in general skillfully made. Its most striking features,
however, are its authentic-sounding Native American dialects and its repetitious ritualistic stage
movements and gestures. The latter culminate in each scene with the searching of Bobby's person, a
perversion of ancient ritual which has considerable dramatic impact.
The second play, Foghorn, is reminiscent of Arthur Kopit's Indians in its raucous theatricality and its
broad satirical thrusts. It is a script to be performed rather than a play to be read, and consequently
the satire seems unnecessarily repetitious at times. Several of the vignettes, however, combine humor
and pathos quite movingly, and again the juxtaposition of traditional and nontraditional elements is
The final play, 49, is the most moving of the three. In it the sights and sounds of the past rise most
fully and most convincingly against the often depressing present and finally overcome that present as
the characters at last rediscover the strengths of their tribal origins. There is a considerable amount
of poetry in this work, particularly in the speeches of the charismatic Nightwalker, and the weaving
together of past and present is artfully done. This play is Geiogamah's best example of the strength
and vitality of Native American origins.
Drama has always been an integral part of Native American life. Those who have observed members
of Indian tribes engaged in rituals are keenly aware of the intensity with which the oral tradition has
been merged with various art forms. The spoken word commands respect. The history of the ages is
known to all those who would receive it from the elders.
At the same time, the appropriate ritual of song and dance becomes a synthesized oneness in the
attempt to achieve the desired outcome. While there has been a dearth of written works by American
Indians which capture the drama of the rituals of the past, it should be expected that sooner or later
there would arrive on the scene a knowledgeable and capable Indian of the contemporary times who
records the life space experience of many Native Americans at this time in history.
New Native American Drama: Three Plays by Hanay Geiogamah is a magnificent example of how one
American Indian versed in the craft of constructing words and actions for the stage is able to put forth
several statements on behalf of those indigenous inhabitants who populated these shores long before
the advent of Columbus. In addition, the magnificently sensitive and informative sixteen-page
introduction and analysis by Jeffrey Huntsman is a tribute to an individual's ability to empathize with
others in an attempt to understand both humorous and horrific aspects of human existence.
Geiogamah enrolled in 1979 at Indiana University, majoring in theater with a minor in journalism. He
received his B.A. in 1980; that same year he published his first three plays as New Native American
A short play in five scenes, Body Indian depicts a group of Indians living off the reservation in
Oklahoma and engaging in heavy drinking, singing, and dancing. Everyone seems to be having a
great time despite the poverty and degradation in which they live. The main character, Bobby Lee,
arrives at the beginning of the play with more wine and a large sum of money from cashing the check
he has received for leasing his allotment of reservation land to a farmer.
Some years earlier Bobby Lee had passed out drunk on the railroad tracks and a train had severed
his leg. At the end of each scene he passes out again, and his friends and relatives search him for
money to buy more wine. In the fifth scene, finding no more money, they take his artificial leg. After
Bobby Lee gets "rolled" in each scene, the action freezes while an image of railroad tracks is
projected on a screen and a train whistle is heard.
In his review of Geiogamah's plays in American Indian Quarterly (November 1979) Jack W. Marken
says that "Body Indian presents a situation of near hopelessness" but that its theme is one of survival:
"despite the bleakness of the play, Geiogamah is pointing out that Bobby Lee has survived, and he,
like all crippled Indians (that is, of course, all of them), can survive. They do have a chance to
overcome." In Studies in American Indian Literature (Winter 1983), on the other hand, Norma Wilson
views Body Indian as "a bleak dramatization of the effects of alcoholism," a "somber warning . . . that
all alcoholics are in danger of being maimed."
The characters are too "weak-willed" to help themselves or each other. The train "symbolizes the
culture that invaded their land, dislocating the Indians from their source of life." Kenneth Lincoln
describes Body Indian as "dangerously humorous, something tribally akin to dark comic theatre of
conscience." He finds in it "losers humor," Brechtian humor, trickster humor, and mythic humor. Bobby
Lee "has some pride left," holds out "for better, even at the bottom," and will not "give in to
victimization." Lincoln interprets the train motif as showing that "the railroad historically ran over the
backs of Bobby's people."
Jeffrey Huntsman presents yet another perspective in his introduction to New Native American Drama,
saying that for Bobby Lee the train is a horrible reminder of the accident that took his leg, while for the
others it is "a persistent reminder of their guilt." Huntsman describes Bobby Lee as dignified, as "a
man of character and decency." Like Marken, Huntsman believes that Bobby's "suffering has been
redemptive, and this realization makes Body Indian a play of optimism and triumph."
In the unpublished interview Geiogamah revealed his original intention for the theme of Body Indian:
the train "represents the guilt of the characters stealing from Bobby." In an interview with Lincoln he
explained that he was trying to expose Indians' lack of a sense of community: "I realized that there
were just real problems, real things with Indians that needed to be brought to their attention. . . . Indi'n
brotherhood, Indi'n love, all this Indi'n kind of thing . . . to me was a hypocrisy that I felt very strongly
about." While there is humor in the play, it is the sad and pathetic humor of drunks: "We all thought
that we were all doing a big tragedy. We were playing it that way. . . . I thought that I was just writing
about an alcoholic setting. I guess for me all the humor had gone out of that -- out of my experiences
and my trafficking in the alcoholic aspects of life."
Any laughter from an audience is probably a nervous reaction to a harsh reality. Bobby Lee survived
the train accident, but living the life of an alcoholic is not heroic; the ending holds no triumph. No one
has changed; although various characters have talked about going to Alcoholics Anonymous, no one
has actually begun treatment. The addiction will continue.
In contrast to the gloomy Body Indian, Geiogamah's second play, Foghorn, is a vaudeville show; but it
has a serious message. As Marken says, "the author's mirror reflects the history of stupidity and
racism in American society in dealing with Native Americans in cases of education, religion, sex,
television, treaties, and the areas of human and governmental relationships. The play is a purgation
of Indian resentment."
Geiogamah does not have to preach to get his message across; the absurdity of stereotyping Native
Americans is made obvious in the play. In his production notes Geiogamah says that the stereotypical
characters should be "almost . . . pushed to the point of absurdity" and that the "satire" should be
"playful mockery rather than bitter denunciation." The basic seriousness of the play is more obvious
"if the heavy hand is avoided" and a "light, almost frivolous" atmosphere is created.
Foghorn has a circular structure: the first two scenes are serious in tone; they are followed by scenes
that become progressively more hilarious, until the eleventh, and final, scene closes the play on a
somber note. This style of writing symbolizes the circle of the Indian nations, the strength of the
people. To enhance this concept the traditional drum is played at various times; the beat of the drum
is the heartbeat of the people who are the circle. The play opens with Indians on a forced journey
similar to the Trail of Tears.
The journey is interrupted by Christopher Columbus "discovering" America, European settlers
screaming derogatory comments at the travelers, and congressmen plotting to move the Indians onto
reservations. The forced journey continues into the beginning of scene 2, which is set on Alcatraz
Island during the 1972 Thanksgiving Day occupation.
The narrator steps forward and proclaims:
Indians, by right of discovery. We wish to be fair and honorable with the Caucasian inhabitants
of this land, who as a majority wrongfully claim it as theirs, and hereby pledge that we shall give
to the majority inhabitants of this country a portion of their land for their own to be held in trust
by American Indian people -- for as long as the sun shall rise and the rivers flow down to the
sea! We will further guide the majority inhabitants in the proper way of living. We will offer them
our religion, our education, our way of life -- in order to help them achieve our level of
civilization, and thus raise them and all their white brothers from their savage and unhappy
A traditional song follows the speech. With the final beat of the drum still echoing, scene 3 begins with
the blast of a church organ, and the play progresses into the lighter, more satiric scenes. In scene 3 a
Catholic nun arrives to bring "the one true religion" to the "pagans." Her Bible is the Yellow Pages of
the telephone book, and her cross is made of paper money.
One hysterical scene follows another. A white teacher waves tiny American flags while attempting to
teach English, "the most beautiful language in all the world," to the children of the tribe. The first word
she wants them to learn is hello because it is the one word they "must know to become civilized."
Another scene depicts Pocahontas and her handmaidens laughing at the color of the white man's skin
and his lack of manliness.
In another scene it is revealed that Tonto is the real hero and that the Lone Ranger has been taking
undue credit for their good deeds all these years. The First Lady announces that more land will be
taken from the Indians to build a national park. A scene about a possible tribal revolution parodies the
These scenes build to the tenth, the most riotous of all. With carnival music playing in the
background, Indians with brightly colored headdresses, stick horses, rubber knives, and children's
bows and arrows frolic on the stage in a chaotic parody of the old-style Wild West show. But the tone
suddenly changes when a single gunshot is heard. Scene 10 merges into scene 11, and the audience
finds itself at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, during the 1973 occupation. The circle is complete.
In contrast to Body Indian and Foghorn, Geiogamah's third play, 49 , has a sparse set and calls for
The actors create their environment in pantomime, compelling the audience to use their imaginations.
The play is set on a Native American ceremonial ground in two time periods: 1888 and the present.
Night Walker, an ageless, timeless ceremonial figure who represents the spirit of the people, connects
the two eras.
A "49" is a modern celebration that begins around midnight, after a powwow. Huntsman describes it as
"a time when Indian people gather for a night of singing, dancing and conversation, predictably
leavened, like most parties everywhere, by the promise of intoxicants and sex." In the scene set in the
past Night Walker introduces Singing Man and Weaving Woman. These characters teach the youth to
be creative, patient, and hopeful and to see good things in the future. In the scene set in the present
the voices of highway patrolmen are heard attempting to break up the party; the patrolmen fail
because the youths band together and defy them.
49 "has a theme of hope and resurrection," according to Marken. "It recommends unity to the Indian
people with a stress on the old values of love and beauty and following the Indian ways of the past in
the present and future. . . . The Indian people should see the truths in the old myths rather than
succumb to the seductions of white society." Wilson, who attended the premiere performance, says
that 49 is the most hopeful of the three plays, for it dramatizes a group of contemporary youth with
purpose and meaning in relation to the cycle of life. . . .
In seeing and reading the play I was closer to a shared ritual experience than is usual in
contemporary American stage drama. While its structure is fragmented, and Night Walker's first
speech is weak, the play overall has great vitality.
In 1984 Geiogamah began teaching in the theater department at the University of California at Los
Angeles. From 1984 to 1988 he was executive director of the American Registry for the Performing
Arts in Los Angeles. In 1988 he cofounded the American Indian Dance Theatre, which tours
throughout the United States and abroad. He wrote the company's two specials for the Public
Broadcasting System's Great Performances: Dance in America series, directing "Finding the Circle" in
1989 and codirecting and producing "Dances for the New Generations" in 1992. In 1989 he served as
technical adviser for the Wildwood Productions feature film Dark Wind. With Michael Grant he wrote
"The Native Americans," a six-part historical series broadcast by Turner Network Television in October
1994. For Turner he also produced the films Broken Chain (December 1993), Geronimo (December
1993), Lakota Woman (October 1994), Tucumseh ( June 1995), and Crazy Horse ( July 1996).
Geiogamah has written several plays since New Native American Drama was published. Asked in the
unpublished interview why he had not published them, Geiogamah explained that he did not feel that
they were polished enough; he said that he "now understands the writing process to be one of
changing and refining," that plays need to be perfected on stage as well as on paper. He spoke
enthusiastically about the prospects for a Native American theater movement: "The writers are there,
but it's difficult to find actors with the level of performing talent" necessary for professional
productions. While "waiting for the actors," Geiogamah is "maturing, refining, and reflecting.
WRITINGS BY THE AUTHOR:
• New Native American Drama: Three Plays, introduction by Jeffrey Huntsman (Norman: University of
Oklahoma Press, 1980).
• The American Indian Resource Guide: Compiled for the Entertainment Industry, by Geiogamah and
others (Los Angeles: American Indian Registry for the Performing Arts, 1987).
• Body Indian, New York City, La Mama Experimental Theatre Club, 25 October 1972.
• Foghorn, West Berlin, Reichskabaret, 18 October 1973.
• Coon Cons Coyote, New York City, La Mama Experimental Theatre Club, December 1973.
• 49, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma City University, 10 January 1975.
• War Dancers, New York City, Native Americans in the Arts, March 1981.
• Grandma and Grandpa, New York City, American Folk Theatre, August 1984.
• Land Sale, Tulsa, American Indian Theatre Company of Oklahoma, 1985.
• American Indian Dance Theatre, Los Angeles, Beverly Theatre, June 1987.
• The Native Americans, by Geiogamah and Michael Grant, Turner Network Television, October 1994.
• "The New Native American Theatre," in The Dictionary of Native American Literature, edited by
Andrew Wiget (New York: Garland, 1994), pp. 377-381.
D'Aponte, M. (1998). Seventh Generation: An Anthology of Native American Plays.
Allen, C. (2002). Blood Narrative: Indigenous Identity in American Indian and Maori Literary and
Gruber, E. (2012). Thomas King.