HISTORY: Ishi was an American Indian, the last of the stone-age Yahi who
lived near Mount Lassen in northern California. When the rest of his tribe
had been killed by the white immigrants, Ishi spent three years alone in
the wilds. Then, inexplicably, before dawn one day in 1911, he entered
the modern world. A newspaper account of his capture was read by Professor
Alfred Kroeber, an anthropologist at the University of California who specialized
in the study of California Indians. Kroeber also directed the Museum of
Anthropology in San Francisco, and he saw this as a wonderful opportunity.
He brought Ishi to San Francisco where the stone-age man willingly spent
the remaining four years of his life as a living exhibit. Wild Indian focuses
on his life and death in the museum.
CHARACTERS: 2 men and 2 women. ISHI is approximately 51
when the play begins, but he looks ten years younger. KROEBER is 35 and
as a scientist he considers Ishi the research opportunity of a lifetime.
He is determined to see that Ishi retains his native culture. WING SU,
21, is the museum's Chinese-American secretary. She is proud of how her
grandfather, who was brought to the USA to help build the railroad, adapted
to the new culture. She wants to help Ishi do the same. HILARY, Kroeber's
25-year-old assistant, is in her first position since receiving her Ph.D.
from Columbia University. She is attempting to adapt to the professional
world of men.
SETTING: The single set suggests an exhibition
within an exhibition. The Art-nouveau museum gallery contains an exhibit
of the Yahi habitat similar to those seen in a natural history museum.
Included in the exhibit are a Yahi house watgurwa) in which Ishi lives,
the natural flora of his tribal area, a fire pit, and a stuffed coyote.
In the distance can be seen Mount Lassen and the sky. At times lighting
transforms the Yahi exhibit from the natural history display to a romantic
landscape of the Mount Lassen area as seen at dawn or sunset or moonlight.
STYLE: Basically, the style is realistic, but
there are expressionistic sections which take us into the memories or dreams
of the characters through lighting changes and internal monologues. Sometimes
these different levels of reality are superimposed one on the other.
THEME: The play is concerned with cultural assimilation
and adaptation, the way power is used to fulfill ambition--cultural, racial,
national, sexual, social, and professional. It concerns the relationship
of ambition, science, war, and cultural genocide. It implies that the usurpation
of genius by the sciences and technology has been to the detriment of humanism,
philosophy, and the arts.
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