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Theatre Review: Crazy Horse And Custer

photo credit: Kelly Christofferson
 

photo credit: Kelly Christofferson

Crazy Horse and Custer died over 130 years ago, but these two icons of American history continue to fascinate people to this day – including Sacramento area playwright Jon George.  George’s play is a sort of meditation by the spirits of Custer and Crazy Horse, reflecting on their lives and deaths. And they express altogether different views about themselves, and their respective societies. Custer speaks first in this exchange.

Custer: “You people fought all the time. Sioux against Crow, Cheyenne against Pawnee, tribe against tribe. You never went a week without war.”

Crazy Horse: “Not right. It is true that we raided for horses, for wives. Many times only to show bravery before an enemy. We did not fight battles to win or lose, not like this. We did not make war to the death.”

Custer, of course, died on the battlefield at Little Big Horn, while pursuing a strategy that many historians regard as reckless. In the battle’s aftermath, the Cavalry pursued Crazy Horse, and he was ultimately killed in a cavalry fort the following year.

The play features some imagined exchanges between Crazy Horse and Custer, but moody monologues directed to the audience make up most of the show. Here, playwright George has Crazy Horse reflecting on the legendary figure he became after his death.

Crazy Horse: “As time went on, my former enemies began to make their own myths about me. From a bloodthirsty savage, I was transformed into a ‘noble’ savage, as they tried to mask their own prejudices. I became a figure to be carved into a mountainside. Nobody remembered who I really was.”

This play is long on ideas, and short on action. But the material is so inherently fascinating that I found the show absorbing, even if it is visually static at times. It’s a play that sends you home with a great deal to think about, and I recommend it on those grounds, even though it doesn’t entirely click as a work for the stage.

“Crazy Horse and Custer” has drawn protesters at some performances. While playwright Jon George has made revisions to the script, some members of the Lakota community remain critical of the play. A recent Insight segment explored the controversy. The show continues at the Sacramento Theatre Company through December 15, 2014.

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Jeff Hudson

Contributing Arts Reporter and Theatre Critic

Jeff Hudson has been contributing arts-related stories to Capital Public Radio since 1995, with an emphasis on theater and classical music. He attends over 100 performances annually, ranging from modern musicals to medieval masses.   Read Full Bio