Intense. Complex. Revealing. Native Voices at the Autry's Lying With Badgers is a journey across the multidimensional, coexisting realms of past and present, culture and circumstance, spirit world and human. It unapologetically explores the reality of contemporary Native America in a stage performance that is forceful and emotionally charged.
From the first moment of the opening act we step deep inside the Blackfeet culture, and into the multi-generational experience of it; an all-encompassing responsibility to the preservation of balance in a world that no longer seems in sync with ritual and ceremony.
The plot is full of twists and surprises, and voices. The voices of spirits reveal themselves and speak to Russell Spotter (Glenn Stanton) from the moment he returns to his ancestral home, a sacred region known as Badger Two Medicine. There, after an absence of fifteen years, he is confronted with layers of conflict as his younger brother Asher Potts (Enrico Nassi) and girlfriend Maggie Strangle Wolf (Rainbow Dickerson) attempt to embrace cultural-eco-tourism as as way to preserve their culture and their land, which is oil-rich and being aggressively pursued by a major oil company.
As the spirit animals shape-shift in and out of physical bodies, offering themselves to sustain their human relatives while urging Russell to set their world back in balance, eco-tourist and philanthropist Crystal Farling (Stephanie Childers) and television personality Tara Torres (Dana Pacheco) arrive ready for a real-life indigenous adventure in the wilderness. Except one of them is not who she appears to be. They will get more real-life adventure than either one of them could have dreamed. An early blizzard envelopes them in deep snow while they attempt to prepare for one of the Blackfeet's most sacred rituals; the send-off of a deceased tribal member.
But the dead have spirits too, and this particularly dead native (Duane Minard) reveals himself to Russell as the Bear; the most sacred of animals, one whose relationship with the Blackfeet goes back countless generations and is at the heart of their spiritual foundation.
Meanwhile, just outside, a real bear...either sick or injured, lingers near the lodge, and Maggie is determined to track down the bear and tranquilize it so she can examine and treat the out-of-balance animal.
Layers and layers of complexity are revealed as the story reaches its powerful climax, and the audience is transported from a stage play to a ceremony that fills the space so completely it is inescapable...you are in it...you are a witness to the spirits, to the heart of the people, to the land, the past, the future, and all of Creation.
Lying With Badgers gleans its intensity from truth. Playwright Jason Grassi of the Blackfeet nation tells the story of a very real place - Badger Two Medicine is in fact a sacred land of the Blackfeet, and the play is rooted in real events. In the 1980's, 47 oil leases were granted in Badger Two Medicine by the US government, without the consent of or consultation with the Blackfeet nation.
Directed by Randy Reinholz, Lying With Badgers is an important work on numerous levels, delivered with serious talent. It addresses the core native values of balance and connectedness in a way that is engaging, often humorous, and rendered with great artistry. It reveals contemporary native reality with palpable tension and spot-on musical accompaniment. The play is in its final week at The Autry, with the last performance on March 15.
Corina Roberts, Founder, Redbird