Nikkole Salter’s “Indian Head” is a brand new play having its World Premiere at Luna Stage, in West Orange, New Jersey, and it is timely, disturbingly thought provoking, and shows that, while we feel we’ve come far, we still have a very long way to go.
From the very beginning, we are plunged into the mélange of feelings and emotions that make up high school football. Coach Jeff Smith (Donivan Dain Scott) is exhorting the crowd, along with Warriors team captain, senior Brian Kelly (Ollie Corchado). Brian sports the traditional Mohawk hair style, required by the school of its team captains, to typify the Warrior spirit. When Coach Smith decides to display the brand new scoreboard, before the semi-final game, he is horrified to find it has been vandalized. And it doesn’t take long to discover that it is the work of Rachel Murray (Sydney Battle), a Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape teen. Her mother Patricia (Carla-Rae) works hard to understand her daughter and work out the best compromise, when she and Coach Smith make an effort to determine a solution, to turn the experience into a teachable moment for both Rachel and the team. The action takes place in Cumberland County, New Jersey, where football approaches Texas fervor.
This play was commissioned by Luna Stage, in partnership with New Jersey Performing Arts Center, and it is a powerful play that exposes privilege, racism, sexism, and the definitions of winning and losing. Many of the ways that we interact today that we call “tradition” are actually institutionalized “-isms”—and how do we break free from the ways that we have been “carefully taught” to hate and fear and diminish others’ personhood? Ultimately, I left with some answers and a lot more questions, which were sparked by the play itself. For me, this transcends the experience of entertainment and becomes an opportunity for further education. Director Kareem Fahmy plays us like a violin, and this play remains with you.
Remember to arrive early at Luna Stage, as there is a Context Room, curated by Kaitlin Stillwell, which provides background that makes the play even richer as an event. It is open a half hour prior to the house opening. On Thursday, February 16, there is a talk-back and I highly recommend you attend. Forget flowers and candy–give your Valentine an unforgettable evening attending this play.
“Indian Head” plays through March 5. If you want to give someone an amazing experience, get your tickets now by visiting www.lunastage.org