Staging ‘America’s Original Sin’

Some of the 16-person cast of "Trail of Tears" (Photo by Ashley Marinaccio via Downtown Express)

Some of the 16-person cast of “Trail of Tears” (Photo by Ashley Marinaccio via Downtown Express)

Taking the stage this month at Nuyorican Poets Cafe in the East Village is the latest production from Rebel Theater Company, whose diverse ensemble performs hard-hitting stories that “give a voice to those people who are marginalized in society,” as its website states. Following in the steps of previous shows on the Black Panther movement and Hurricane Katrina, “Trail of Tears,” writes Scott Stiffler for Downtown Express, “connects the atrocities of imperial Great Britain, Nazi Germany, Kosovo and Darfur to America’s original sin.”

Based on events prompted by President Andrew Jackson’s signing of the Native American Removal Act in 1830, “Trail of Tears” is told in the style of a satirical docudrama — a provocative and deeply unsettling mix when applied to the themes of forced relocation and genocide. “Heightened reality that is comedic” but also “rooted in a painful truth” is how they put it, and appropriately so.

Stiffler notes the multicultural approach to portraying the characters.

As in past productions, much of Rebel’s impact comes from its strength-in-numbers approach — distinguished this time by having the multicultural cast skillfully phase in and out of personas and ethnic identities. Latinos and Blacks become Native Americans, while Europeans are played by the production’s five-tribe-strong contingent of Native American actors.

“Trail of Tears” isn’t just limited to historic events.

A girl who identifies as “Two Spirit (the Native American designation for LGBT) speaks about contemporary life on her reservation.

“Other ethnic groups are allowed to evolve over time,” she observes. “Why aren’t we?”

Read more on this part of the play, and the rest of Stiffler’s review of “Trail of Tears,” at Downtown Express. And for ticket information, go to the Nuyorican Poets Cafe website.

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