The Hollywood Fringe is an annual festival of live theater that brings players from all over the world to small theaters throughout Hollywood. It’s mostly centered on theater row on Santa Monica Boulevard between La Brea and El Centro, but several other small theaters are also involved. It offers a chance to take in a live experience and to see something unique. After all these years in Los Angeles, and being an actress, for crying out loud – and I’d never been to the festival before last Sunday!
I heard about “Sitting Bull’s Last Waltz” through an actor in the play named Alan Tafoya. I ran into him at Callenders Grill during their groovy jazz evening on Fridays and we got to talking. Turns out he’s an Apache from near my neck of the woods in northern New Mexico. He told me about the play and I went on down for opening night to find that it’s part of the Fringe.
“I wish it to be remembered that I was the last man of my tribe to surrender my rifle”
– so said the defiant Chief Sitting Bull of the Hunkpapa Lakota.
Sitting Bull, also a holy man of his people, had many visions, including the defeat of General Custer and his bunch of marauders at the battle of Little Big Horn. Later, a meadowlark spoke to him in a vision of his own death at the hands of his own people.
Sitting Bull had a really bad rep with the U.S. government. He was super worried for his people since they were often starving after having their food supply purposely eliminated or being kicked out of their homes or murdered outright. Custer may have lost back in 1890, but the descendants of the Europeans were coming out west by the hundreds of thousands and stealing land from the Lakota Sioux right and left. Someone came up with a nice word to call them – “settlers.”
Sitting Bull was a real thorn in their side because he could tell a whopper of a story with a song. The Sioux people love that. People were inspired by him to continue to resist. Then came the Ghost Dance. The Indians have always been big on ceremonies and this one turned into a movement. The Ghost Dance was a ceremony that promised that the Indian people would get their way of life back so it was pretty popular as you might imagine. The idea that the Indians could get their way of life back was also very threatening to the occupiers since that would interfere with their own plans for their destiny being made manifest.
The actors of “Sitting Bull’s Last Waltz” tell the story of the men and women from this piece of our country’s history with visible passion and remarkable talent. The story is narrated throughout by Little Sure Shot herself, an effective theatrical device, which makes for an interesting angle. What unfolds beautifully before us in the small theater is a story that is heartbreaking to be sure but it is also an inspiring example of resistance to oppression and of a love for a life that is whole and unbroken.
The tone of this resistance is mostly told through the art of song. Described as a “post-punk musical,” the score brilliantly and viscerally depicts the passion of the conflicts; and the power of the relationships between the various characters and the land itself.
This show is bound to go places. The writing is superb and the musical pieces are excellently written and performed. I’d love to see the soundtrack come out. I’ll keep City Watch readers informed of that eventuality. This is an important performance piece. Not only because it causes us to know who we are as a country but because its’ message of the struggle against wanton oppression boldly resonates today as we stand on the brink of the destruction of our planet.
In the words of Black Elk on the massacre at Wounded Knee, which took place not too long after Sitting Bull was murdered:
“I did not know then how much was ended….I can see that something else died there in the bloody mud, and was buried in the blizzard. A people’s dream died there. It was a beautiful dream.”
We need to learn from that dream.