The Fullerton College Theatre Arts Department has opened its dynamite 1991-92 season with Indians,. by Arthur Kopit. In this Wild West fantasy, the subject of the play is the systematic elimination, whether by questionable treaties or outright slaughter, of the American Indians. To Kopit's credit, he generally avoids the strident polemics of a historical revisionist while at the same time denying his audience any easy way of escaping a direct confrontation with the specter of genocide.
Mr. Kopit takes a batch of myths that have sprung up around the long popular topic of "cowboys and
Indians" and proceeds deftly to shift them ever so slightly, just enough to jar the fixed vision of the viewer. In the center he plump none other than Buffalo Bill,who in 1868,killed 4,280 buffalo on a job providing food for railroad workers.
Bill is serving as an intermediary for a U.S. commission investigating Indian grievances at Standing Rock Reservation, in 1886. As the talks continue, however, it is clear that neither' side is capable of understanding the other. The Indians are being urged to continue their unsuccessful farming and not return to hunting; the Senators ignore the fact that the Indian considers ploughing to be sacrilegious act. The Senators offer cows or land; the Indians, assuming all things of nature to be communal, prefer both.
So the chasm deepens. ,In the end, the white man has the might, and if it doesn't necessarily make for right, it's always good for some rationalizing righteousness. Sitting Bull retreats after making an impassionate plea for his "dying people." In. 1890, the famous chief is assassinated; several days later, his people are killed by U.S. forces. It's harsh, concedes Col. Forsyth, "but had we shirked our responsibilities, these skirmishes would have gone on for years."
Along the way, the Fessence of Buffalo Bill himself is explored in a series of flashbacks -- his climb to fame via the somewhat inspirational reporting of Ned Buntline, his Wild West shows featuring live honest-to goodness Indians, his forays into legitimate theatre, and. always the nagging of his "liberal" conscience. It seems the Indians in his show are a bit less than grateful for being put on public display. - with dramatic recitations of surrender speeches, after which the audience always applauds; 'somehow, they only feel human.