"Indian Head" at Luna Stage (REVIEW)

March 2nd - 5th, West Orange, NJ

Photos from Luna Stage website

By Patricia Rogers | Posted Thursday, March 2, 2017

It is that time again: a night at the theater.

Luna Stage Theater, to be exact.  And for Nikkole Salter’s much anticipated, Indian Head.

Following a warm welcome from Cheryl Katz, Indian Head begins with the roar of a victory from the championship-bound Chipeekany Warriors.  But the moment is interrupted when Coach Smith and star football player Brian notice their new scoreboard has been vandalized.

Coach Smith, played by Donavin Dain Scott, is angry as he has held “the tribes” – oh, I mean, the high school football team’s – traditions in the highest regard.  He is not superstitious though(his words, not mine).  He wants to see the student responsible, of Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape decent, punished.

After her mother, Patricia, played by Carla-Rae, visits with the coach, they come to an agreement.  She’d be the team’s equipment manager.  Here you can see her trying to reason with both sides for a peaceful resolution.

Rachel, played by Sydney Battle, reluctantly became a part of the football team.  At first she started educating Brian, who admitted that he was ignorant when it came to the Native American iconography.  But Brian still wanted to use their symbolism to keep up the morale of the football team, and the legacy that Coach Smith passed on to him.  But, you know, in a respectful way.

Coach Smith, who happens to be black, knew very little about the iconography / symbols he was using to win football games, and in my opinion lacked sensitivity to the tribe.  However, it seemed he didn't care to learn or educate his players.  He needed the team and star player to make it to the championship.  Even leading him to be dishonest toward his “tribe.”  He knew that he needed the family to endorse the team.

Indian Head takes on the controversial mascot name change at Parsippany High School.  In 2001 it was changed to the Redhawks, formerly the Redskins.  When it comes to the storied relationship between Native Americans and the United States of America, it is clear there has been a huge violation of trust.  And when Brian comes out to the field in the sacred headers, we all felt it.  The emotion and intensity can be felt in the entire room.  And when he says, “felt like it was mine,” I nearly gasped aloud.  Not to mention his short change in demeanor after he was attacked.

The daughter, who at first did not want anything to do with him, went the way of education, equating tolerance.  Proud of her heritage, she did not want to see it made a mockery of.

Was ignorance the curse of the Indian Head?  Because I have to admit, I didn’t know the meaning behind the popular mohawk haircut.  Can we fault the coach or Brian for needing something to believe in?  Something they felt was bigger than themselves?

Is the lesson that sometimes misunderstandings do happen?  And that what is missing is having more compassion, patience, and being open to mutual respect and learning about new cultures?

The other questions Indian Head presented to me was, how much does intent have to do with cultural appropriation?  Does sheer love and hope not suffice?  Are we allowed to even dismiss what someone holds sacred?  Don’t we all need symbols of hope?

I was moved by the cast.  I was fully invested in their respective journeys throughout the play.  Even if you did not agree with the character at times.  There is also the difference between generations when it comes to culture and existing in a different cultural environment, as we saw in the play, with the approaches both Patricia and the daughter took to fight for their tribe’s rights.  They each had their own issues when it came to how to represent Indian Head.  Most Luna plays have me on an emotional rollercoaster.  Sometimes even not being able to contain my laughs, gasps, or random emotion that happens to hit me.

Like past Nikkole Salter plays like Lines in the Dust, we see a portrait of the complexities of race relations in 2017.  The conflict of the religion that is American football, with pretty much anything else, was a story for this country in 2017.  I was excited to bring Kionna Ballard, she is 14, she’s family and I cannot imagine the awesome impact these stories can have in her life.  Indian Head is relevant, compassionate, and had its funny moments.

“I loved the play.  It was so fun.  I liked how consistent Rachel’s character was and how determined she was to prove how her culture was no matter what, and how loyal she was to her culture.” - Kionna Ballard, 14

Indian Head was another world premiere, and was commissioned in partnership with the NJPAC Stage Exchange, a program of the N.J. Performing Arts Center.  Nikkole Salter, author of Lines in the Dust and Carnaval was also featured in the Spring 2014 issue of Masconsumption zine.

It was truly a pleasure.  Until next time, Luna Stage.

About the Writer

Patricia Rogers, #ValleyGirlNJ, lives in New Jersey's Valley Arts District.  The native New Yorker works as a writer, blogger and community activist. Starting Masconsumption Media in 2012, she has been passionate about capturing the stories of the vibrant up and coming Valley Arts District neighborhood through her blog, zine, events and more.  She blogs for Jersey Indie, Luna Stage, and Hat City Kitchen and offers many creative media services.  Visit her blog www.masconsumption.com and keep up with your favorite Valley Girl on social media at @valleygirl_nj (Twitter / Instagram).