It’s common these days for theaters to welcome audiences with an acknowledgement of the indigenous homelands of the local area. In Los Angeles, which has the largest indigenous population of any American city, the former stewards of the land honored typically include the Gabrieleño/Tongva, Fernandeño Tataviam and Chumash.
That acknowledgement landed as an even more powerful and appropriate tribute when invoked prior to the opening night performance of Desert Stories for Lost Girls, at the LA Theatre Center downtown. The Latino Theater Company produced the world premiere play in association with Native Voices at the Autry.
The show was introduced by Native Voices at the Autry Managing Director Elisa Blandford and new Artistic Director DeLanna Studi, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. They noted that Native Voices is the only Actors Equity company in the U.S. dedicated to developing new plays by indigenous playwrights.
And what a play followed that introduction. Playwright Lily Rushing (Genízaro) has created a potent story of an indigenous family in New Mexico, based on her own ancestry. Her great-great grandmother Placida (Samantha Bowling) was sold into slavery as a child. Her grandparents, Rosita/Rosa (Rainbow Dickerson and Carolyn Dunn) and Joe (Glenn Stanton), left New Mexico for California, to escape a dead-end life of sharecropping. Eighteen-year-old Carrie (Katie Anvil Rich) represents the playwright herself. Uncle Edgar (Tom Allard) represents the generation of Carrie’s parents, Josefa Jacinto (Brenda Banda) and Nicholas Jacinto (Glenn Stanton) the Spanish colonial past and its horrific intersection with indigenous lives.
Almost all cast members are affiliated with Native American tribes, representing seven in all. They bring a riveting intensity to material that spans generations and emotions. The richly layered set (by Christopher Scott Murillo, with lighting and projection design by Derek Christiansen and Ruby O’Brien), brilliantly designed costumes (Lorna Bowen) and haunting sound (Mia Glenn-Schuster) support the story in unique and moving ways.
Director Sylvia Cervantes Blush brings a sense of history and life after death to the interactions between the generations. In Desert Girls, the dead still live. They affect the lives of their descendants, who carry their bones and circulate their blood, giving them ties to a land that was theirs for thousands of years and ties to each other that are eternal.
Desert Stories for Lost Girls plays on Thursdays through Saturdays at 8:00pm and Sundays at 4:00pm. The play runs through Oct. 16 at Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring St. Tickets are $48 on Fridays through Sundays, pay-what-you-will on Thursdays; they can be purchased here.