- American Gypsy: Six Native American Plays
Diane Glancy (Cherokee/English/German) has an impressive record of awards for her prolific publications of fiction, poetry, essays, and plays. To her previously published collection of plays, fiar Cries (1996), she adds American Gypsy: Six Native American Plays (2002), which include The Woman Who Was a Red Deer Dressed for the Deer Dance, The Women Who Loved House Trailers, American Gypsy, Jump Kiss, The Lesser Wars, and The Toad (Another Name for the Moon) Should Have a Bite. This collection explores themes of history, myth, Christianity, gender, acculturation, and love in monologues and multi-character pieces of varying lengths.
The title of the collection, American Gypsy, resonates on several levels with the history of Native Americans and specifically the Cherokees. First, the descriptor alludes to Native Americans as people who have migrated, much as the nomadic people known as gypsies migrated from the border region between Iran and India to Europe in the fourteenth or fifteenth century. However, Glancy refers to Native Americans who have a history of migrating within the borders of America, referring not only to the traditional migrations but also to the enforced migrations, such as the Trail of Tears and removals to reservations. Second, American theatrical actors are known as "gypsies" because they are on the road, moving from one production to another, often living out of their suitcases, creating their own personal migrations. In the play of the same title, Glancy offers her definition of American Gypsy: "An American Gypsy is a Native American who knows migration and rootlessness" (43). Thus the characterization of Native Americans as "American Gypsy" portrays Native actors as the original theatrical performers on this continent, tied to a political and geographical place, and involved in a communal expression of art.
An epigraph, attributed as "From the Cherokee," opens the collection of six plays and suggests one of the dominant themes—the importance [End Page 97] of words: "A stage is suspended in the air. The earth hangs beneath it on cords. As long as the voices last, the cords will not break. But when the voices fail, the earth will fall into the chaos below" (v). The importance of the dialogue in the theater of life on earth suggests that the survival and continuance of the Cherokees is subject to the script of human interaction that stories, or in this case plays, provide. The voices, or the lines that people speak, carry the breath of life that creates balance and harmony on the earth. Without the nurturing voices, life falls into disorder. As Glancy writes in the preface, "[Script] coalesces the array of arbitrary elements into patterns of images upon which the action rides" (xi). She poetically defines "script," the dialogue, as the glue that holds together the setting for life's action, another image of words as the sustenance needed for human relationships. Although the title of the collection lacks tribal specificity, the epigraph connotes the playwright's Cherokee worldview as informing her creative writing.
In The Woman Who Was a Red Deer Dressed for the Deer Dance, Glancy uses Ahw'uste, a Cherokee mythological spirit deer to illustrate the generational challenges to understanding between a grandmother and her granddaughter. Glancy wants to "combine the overlapping realities of myth, imagination, and memory with spaces for the silences" (4). The grandmother made a red-deer dress to draw closer to Ahw'uste, but the granddaughter has no time for the traditional spirits when she has no education or money and needs to find work. The grandmother says, "My deer dress is the way I felt, transformed by the power of ceremony;" and "We're carriers of our stories and histories. We're nothing without them" (14). By the end of the play, the granddaughter glimpses an understanding of her grandmother's world and says, "I'm sewing my own red-deer dress. It's different than my grandma's. Mine is a dress of words. [. . .] I've learned she told me more without speaking than she did with her words" (18...