Young adults venturing away from home for school or jobs are common plots in plays and movies. But, it takes on poignancy and new meaning in “Bingo Hall,” a new play by Dillon Chitto that is being presented through March 25 at the Autry Museum of the American West. “Bingo Hall,” the latest Native Voices production, takes place in a Native American pueblo, but raises concerns facing youth from any tribe or culture wavering between straying or staying connected with the old ways.
Chitto (part Mississippi Choctaw, Laguna, and Isleta Pueblo) created a charming, at times funny, well-acted play about retaining cultural traditions in the world beyond their New Mexico reservation. It is staged at the Autry as part of Native Voices, which supports and mounts works written by and starring Native Americans. Founded in 1994 by Producing Artistic Director Randy Reinholz (Choctaw), it has been the Autry’s resident theatre company since 1999.
Life Beyond the ‘Bingo Hall’
The play tells the story of Edward Anaya (played by Kholan Studi from the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma), a high school senior who calls the numbers – with sarcastic asides – at the local bimonthly bingo game. When college acceptance and rejection letters arrive, he faces an identity crisis about whether turn away from the pueblo means turning away from everything about his community. The elders talk to him about preserving their culture and protecting their traditions. Meanwhile, he and his two friends grapple with coming of age, romantic entanglements and family pressures.
Interwoven with story about the teens is their pueblo’s cultural creation story, told in little bits by each character in the play. The story involves three siblings who venture off to save their people. One never comes back but helps her people from afar. The other two return in different forms. This seems to be a metaphor for the teen trio facing their futures and decisions about whether leaving the pueblo makes sense for them.
Good friend Dakota Zuni (winningly played by Michaela Escarcega, who is Azteca-Rarémuri and Totonac) is headed for the University of Oregon and eventually medical school. Is she the sibling in the creation story who helps from afar but does not return? Edward is debating following his brother to college in Chicago or sticking nearby at the local state college. His friend, basketball-player Ray Rodriguez (portrayed by Kenny Ramos from the Barona Band of Mission Indians—Diegueño Iipay/Kumeyaay), cannot imagine going further than the nearby state school.
Two subplots involve their elders. Edward’s father, Joe Anaya (Duane Minard, who is Yurok, Paiute) is facing re-election as the pueblo’s governor. Dakota’s grandmother, Mrs. Zuni (LaVonne Rae Andrews, from the Tlingit – Raven clan), dies midway through the show, enhancing the pull of local tradition on the adolescents.
Chitto noted the importance of traditions as well as the universality of the play in a recent interview. “It’s a very native story, but it’s very human. And I think everyone can relate to it because we’ve all been through these things before. … I tried to make it as universal as possible while also staying true to my native roots,” he commented.
The Native Voices production of “Bingo Hall” will be staged at the Autry through March 25 on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 pm. There are also matinees at 2 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.
By Dyanne Weiss
Performance March 9, 2018
Autry Museum of the American West, Native Voices
Hollywood Soapbox: INTERVIEW: Native Voices play keeps tradition alive
Photo of Michaela Escarcega, Kenny Ramos and Kholan Studi in “Bingo Hall” at the Autry. © 2018 Craig Schwartz, courtesy Native Voices