by Eric J. Grimm
Rebel Theater Company and The Eagle Project have collaborated on Trail of Tears, a new play showing at the historical Nuyorican Poets Cafe. An energetic cast of seventeen presents the story of one of America’s greatest atrocities through song, dance, and satire with an aim toward educating audiences and displaying Native American pride. Their intentions are never short of genuine and admirable, which makes it difficult to evaluate the show’s artistic merit. The production bursts with passion and anger, which are its best assets even as it feels that the work might be reined in for better effect.
Led by Nurea Durhart, the ensemble shows full commitment to the play and its message throughout. Durhart is the center of the show, playing a troubled young woman of mixed heritage whose personal struggles prompt an exploration of the events proceeding and following The Trail of Tears. She is particularly effective as the show’s emotional core and her emotional evolution makes for a compelling narrative arc. Taking on dozens of roles each, the cast is rich with different ages and ethnicities with all members functioning as essential parts of an ensemble.
The show presents a comprehensive view of the horrors of the trail, though the execution could use more nuance. White male characters are mostly played with high villainy (they’d twirl their mustaches if they had them) and while they are deserving of a critical treatment, their portrayals lack the terrifying insidiousness that goes hand in hand with being a powerful politician. Horrifying events occur on the trail and the cast conveys these evil deeds by shouting and running around the intimate space. I can’t fault them for wanting to shout from the rooftops about America’s unforgivable treatment of Native Americans, but I also would be more moved as a spectator if more of the show were as restrained and heartbreaking as the opening scene in which Durhart laments her dual identity. While the in-your-face approach doesn’t always work for me, the production is undoubtedly effective as a conversation starter for those whose history books downplay the Trail’s devastating consequences.
Trail of Tears plays at Nuyorican Poets Cafe (236 E. 3rd St.) through July 26th. For tickets, visit http://www.nuyorican.org
Photos Credit: Sam Gillette