Written by Dillon Chitto and directed by Reed Flores, AlterTheatre’s “Pueblo Revolt” is in production at UC Berkeley’s Arts Research Center from Feb. 9 through Feb. 12. A breath of fresh air, the two-hander play centers itself on the whole human experience — love, hardship, humor and an exploration of gender identity — of two brothers during the Pueblo Revolt in the 1680s.
Notably, Chitto treats the encounters of Ba’homa (Steven Flores) and Feem Whim (Eduardo Soria) with Spanish conquerors as only one aspect of who they are. Although it is necessary to portray the struggles of the Indigenous people in order to create room for remembrance and respect, at times these stories can feel difficult to grapple with for an outsider trying to empathize with this human tragedy.
By incorporating other aspects of the human experience, Chitto takes a novel approach to sharing an Indigenous people’s story. The play is wrought with numerous issues that also plague modern society, such as navigating one’s gender, unrequited love, religious conversion and family bereavement, allowing viewers to form stronger connections with the characters as they face many dilemmas.
Traditional theatrical productions tend to perform on daunting, majestic stages with the audience seated rather far away, fostering a distance where the role of the actor is to create a scene and that of the audience member is to passively take in the action. However, aligning with AlterTheatre’s mission of making theater accessible to everyone, “Pueblo Revolt” is performed in the Hearst Field Annex. In doing so, the play strips away any barriers between the performers and the audience, placing viewers right in the action and giving them an opportunity to become quickly invested in the story.
Since there is seating on three sides of the performance area, the two actors cannot directly face the audience at all moments. Had this play been set in a traditional theater, the two characters would be talking to each other but cheating out to face the audience to enlighten viewers of their struggle via facial cues. However, as the actors do not have this luxury, they instead have to act with their full bodies. Rather than relying on Ba’homa’s heightened, strained brows or the sense of despair emanating from his downturned lips, specific parts of the audience are forced to internalize the older brother’s struggle against the Spanish conquerors through his raised shoulders and rigid back muscles. In this respect, the art of acting becomes much more nuanced, with the audience forced to rely on details other than base facial expressions in order to empathize with Ba’homa.
Interestingly enough, in line with the simplicity of the set is the intentional placing of different props. Whether it is the haphazardly positioned mat that eventually functions as a bed, or the stool that serves not only its literal function but also as a placeholder for the object of Feem’s affection, every element present in the performance serves a purpose. Reminiscent of the manner in which Indigenous people have traditionally used every part of the animals they hunted so as to not waste resources, the actors do the same with the stage, engaging every element present in order to create a unique and interactive experience.
A principal success of “Pueblo Revolt” is its ability to make viewers believe in the characters and their stories. Due to the nature of the performance area, this initially appears to be a daunting task, since the audience can only look into the home of the brothers. With the use of external sound effects, selective lighting usage and dramatic irony with conversations beyond the scope of the four walls, “Pueblo Revolt” makes this possible. For instance, during the battle scene, the use of flashing lights to progress time forward and share a glimpse of the brothers’ fear calls to their ancestors and traditions while also maintaining the authenticity of these moments.
Although intended as an Indigifuturistic play, “Pueblo Revolt” falls short of reimagination. While confronting very real and important topics such as conquest, loss of cultural community and gender identity, the manner in which the play attempts to ground itself in the future —through tactics such as modern mannerisms, lingo and references to technology — creates jarring moments that take away from the central story.
Because much of the play grounds itself in two realities, that of the 1680s and today, the melding of these two time periods leads to an awkward conflation of modern speech and historic troubles, rather than an uplifting, reimagined past. But despite missing the mark on employing a hyper-reality as a framework for Chitto’s two-character play, “Pueblo Revolt” still moves audiences with its meaningful story.