Ashland Theater Review: Between Two Knees

Aug 13, 2019

Wotko Long, Rachel Crowl, April Ortiz, Derek Garza, Shaun Taylor-Corbett.
Credit Jenny Graham / Oregon Shakespeare Festival

I’d better say it right away. “Between Two Knees,” now playing at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, is not about sex. The two knees referred to are two incidents: the massacre of 300 Lakota at Wounded Knee by American soldiers in 1890, and the 1973 occupation of the Pine Ridge reservation at Wounded Knee by Native American activists.

The popular comedy performers known as the 1491s, comprised of five Native Americans, have patched together a rowdy comic show that takes the audience through this slice of Native American history from their viewpoint.

It’s not a traditional play, but rather a series of connected sketches. As directed by Eric Ting, the show is lively from start to finish, and the humor is hard-hitting, way over-the-top, and rarely subtle.

Through the years we see the travails of Isaiah, a boy who survived the 1890 massacre, and Irma, who met him at a miserable U.S. military-run boarding school for Natives. Their son grows up to fight in World War II, and his son fights in Vietnam.

Some scenes veer off-base. A dance featuring lethal nuns - nunjas - seems endless, and a woo-woo new age wedding adds little of substance.

It might seem wrong to be entertained by the attempted annihilation of Native Americans, but most of us do laugh. Members of the 1491s explain that their humor is primarily to amuse Native Americans. Non-Natives in the audience are also apparently amused, but experience the humor not as survivors and victims, but as the descendants of perpetrators.

Instead of catharsis, we go away carrying a painful load of guilt.

This is Dorothy Velasco with KLCC’s Ashland Theater Review.