Denver Post: reviews Peltier play


Richard Moore

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theater review
Peltier prison monologue rallying cry for supporters
By John Moore
Denver Post Theater Critic
Denver Post
Article Launched:03/22/2007 01:00:00 AM MDT

You know from the start this isn't going to be a typical night of theater.

You know by the solemn welcome from the old Native American filling the 
entranceway of the tiny loft theater with smoke he calls "sacred medicine" ... 
by the "Free Leonard Peltier" T-shirts in the audience ... by the merchandise 
booth just a few feet from the playing area.

You know by the reading of a letter that sends a jolt all the way to Boulder 
from a federal prison in Lewisburg, Pa.

"At night when the cell doors close and I hear the silence of the night, I can 
hear the voices of the Theatre 13 group as they recite their script," Peltier's 
greeting reads. "I can also hear your prayers as the group works together in 
unity. I am deeply honored by your work and creativity."

It seems no one has come to the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art seeking an 
objective examination of whether Peltier actually killed two FBI agents on the 
Pine Ridge (S.D.) Reservation in 1975 - half his 62 years ago. They have not 
come seeking theatrical catharsis but to demand a miracle. They want Peltier 
freed. Yesterday.

"My Life Is My Sun Dance" is both rally and theatrical prayer. Yet in its small 
way, it is also catharsis and small miracle.

It is mostly a monologue performed by Lakota Indian Doug Foote - a haunting hulk
of a man with a deep scar bridging his nose. With a measured and unassuming 
cadence, Foote (an Army reservist who served two tours in Iraq) plays Peltier as
percussive native music is performed underneath by a trio including Foote's son,

Wearing prison grays, Foote chronicles injustices made against Peltier by a 
corrupt legal system, and talks of his struggle to find forgiveness in 
incarceration. Intermission includes political songs and heart-rending speeches.

The stage is spare, save for six pillars wrapped in native colors and a sheet 
that serves as both haunting scrim and screen for the projection of archival 
photos, video and Peltier's prison artwork. Gentle light and sound enhancements 
help turn this rally into something quite moving.

At 8, Peltier was taken from his family and sent to a U.S.-run boarding school 
where he says he was physically and psychologically abused. He grew into an 
activist and leader in the American Indian Movement but says he was 150 feet 
away from where two FBI agents died in a 1975 shootout, sparking the largest 
manhunt in U.S. history.

Tensions were high at the time. The feds wanted the Black Hills for its uranium.
Two years earlier, the Oglala Sioux had briefly reclaimed Wounded Knee after an 
armed standoff. The next three years were marked by police brutality, 1,200 
arrests, rampant vigilantism and 64 unsolved murders of tribal members. The 
attack against these occupying FBI agents was seen by some as an inevitability. 
Three men were arrested. Only Peltier was convicted.

Peltier is serving two consecutive life sentences and is not eligible for 
release until 2041. But a one-word change in his sentence - from "consecutive" 
to "concurrent" - would make him eligible for parole in December 2008. It is 
likely his last chance to die a free man.

In "Sun Dance," there no pretension of impartiality. This audience is largely 
pre-converted. But for the few of us who don't presume to know what really 
happened 32 years ago, a more objective telling would make for a more effective 
call to action. Someone, after all, ambushed those two men, then finished them 
off with point-blank shots to the head.

But if Peltier is innocent, he is the victim of egregious institutional 
malfeasance: Fabricated evidence involving shell casings; a woman who claims the
FBI threatened to put her hands through a grinder if she did not place Peltier 
at the scene.

The possibility that Peltier was railroaded makes the Supreme Court's ongoing 
refusal to even hear the case unconscionable. And the U.S.'s pontificating about
human-right abuses from Darfur to China rings a little more hollow.

At the very least, Peltier deserves another day in court. What does the 
government have to lose but its hypocrisy? If he's innocent, let's get on with 
it and free him.

"America," we are asked, when "will you live up to your principles?"

Theater critic John Moore can be reached at 303-954-1056 or 

"Prison Writings: My Life Is My Sun Dance"

ACTIVIST DRAMA|Presented by Theatre 13|By Leonard Peltier with Harvey Arden 
|Directed by Cathy Quigley-Soderman|Starring Doug Foote|THROUGH APRIL 1|At the 
Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art, 1750 13th St.|7 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. 
Fridays-Saturdays, 3:30 p.m. Sundays|2 hours|$25 (2-for-1 Thursdays, $10 Sundays
and half off any unsold tickets if bought at least one hour before any 
performance)| 303-443-2122 or

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