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Capital Fringe Ghost-lands of an Urban NDN

By • Apr 30th, 2011 • Category: Reviews
Ghost-lands of an Urban NDN devised and performed by Robert Owens-Greygrass
Capital Fringe Festival
Rasmuson Theater, National Museum of the American Indian, Washington, DC
Through May 8th
1:20, no intermission
$25
Reviewed April 29th, 2011

Writer/performer Robert Owens-Greygrass includes a good deal of talk about drugs and alcohol and addiction in his Ghost-lands of an Urban NDN. The piece is a multi-character rant about life as a mixed-race, mixed up existential struggler. Like many of the mood-changing substances that Owens-Greygrass evokes, the performances itself is at times exhilarating and at times wearisome.

The good stuff is essentially humorous. The non-good stuff is essentially grim.

Owens-Greygrass’ humor is sometimes verbal and sometimes visual. An example of verbal wit: An awkward moment in an ecumenical eucharist provokes a silence in which “you could hear a mouse fart.” Example of a piquant word picture: An Indian-cum-new age event attracts a full blood Indian woman in corporate clothes and a Caucasian hippy in a breech cloth.

Example of plodding grimness: Owens-Greygrass interpolates his stories between appearances by a hitchhiking Indian whose embittering experiences range from forced internment in a sadistic Christian boarding school from age 6 and a crippling siege of polio to traumatic Marine Corps service in Vietnam. (A person damaged by polio can be a Marine? Really?) The unfortunate unseen trucker who gives this guy a ride is assaulted by a woeful stream-of-consciousness cataloguing multiple misfortunes and resentments. Miseries are interrupted by sour opinions and recitals of historic injustices. Even the hitch hiker’s humor is unfortunate. “You put ‘the’ and ‘IRS’ together and you get ‘theirs.’ ”

When Owens-Greygrass focuses on his existential struggler persona, however, the humor can be fresh and ironic. An unctuous psychotherapist leans back and says, “Robert, Robert, Robert, Robert (long pause) Robert: when one considers what you’ve been through one might expect you to be a serial killer.”

Even a recollection of drunkenly vomiting into cowboy boots while trying to seduce a charming young woman is funny — considered as one of those sixties excess stories. But when Owens-Greygrass gets preachy about the evils of preachiness, the effect is leaden. Even the contrived battles between his white inner child and his Indian inner child are, by comparison, more engaging than condemnations of condemnation. (Owens-Greygrass’ genealogy includes Caucasian as well as Cherokee and Lakota strains.)

By the way; that title — “Ghost-lands of an Urban NDN.” The “ghost-lands” part refers to the hitchhiker’s view of contemporary society’s inhabitants as zombies on the order of T.S. Eliot’s “Hollow Men.” And the NDN part, what about that? An acronym for Non Delivery Notification? New Democratic Network? National Data Network? No. It’s not an acronym at all. Turns out it is a sort of cool way of saying “Indian.”

Disclaimer: Capital Fringe Festival provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.

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lives in Arlington with his wife, daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren. Before retiring last year at age 70, he was theater critic at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer for 27 years. Prior to that, he reviewed plays for the Philadelphia Bulletin, the Texas Observer and the Swarthmore College Phoenix. Non-reviewing journalistic jobs include writing for the Houston Chronicle, the San Juan (Puerto Rico) Star and El Mundo de San Juan. Think about it: most of the papers he worked for no longer exist. Maybe this internet gig has betterĀ longevity prospects.

One Response »

  1. Just for clarification since you were puzzled by it….the character, Robert Greygrass, is the one that is a survivor of polio. The hitchhiking Indian limps due to an injury received in Vietnam.

    And, I am affiliated to the production.