March 8 2018 10:26 AM

‘White Buffalo’ explores Native American mythology


A white buffalo calf is born is it a sign?

A Lakota Sioux might suggest this is a story, a myth, a fable — that she is the savior of the world. A more semi-cynical point of view might point out she is merely a genetic anomaly, one in a half-million or so.

Don Zolidis’ stage play, “White Buffalo,” playing at Riverwalk’s black box theater, invites the question of whether belief is merely a difference of opinion, depending on the eye of the beholder.

Emily Clark is Carol Gelling, a burned-out, overwrought farmer in Blackhawk, Wisconsin, who discovers the calf while walking her small acreage. A flood of phone calls and visitors ensue, based on a photo in a local newspaper. Her struggle, as to what to do with this calf, is at the heart of this play.

Gelling is joined-at-the-hip in this dilemma along with her 18-year-old idealistic daughter Abby, portrayed earnestly and in tensely by Cassie Little. Abby sides with the Lakota Sioux as to keeping and raising the calf, especially after she and her mother are joined in this emerging drama by a handsome young John Two Rivers, played by Boris Nikolovski.

Mythical understandings of the significance of this event are provided in this play with a Greek chorus of chanting and singing Native Americans, including a child cloaked in a feathery white shroud signifying the buffalo calf. Collen Bethea adds a strong singing voice to this four-voice chorus.

There are a lot of dialogue-dyads in this play, scenes where two actors at a time dominate the stage. Mother and daughter, for example, then daughter and Two Rivers.

An ex-husband, Mike, played by Doak Bloss, arrives on the scene in the middle of lightning and thunder, and Mike and Carol continue the scene, with a stormy exposition on their troubled past.

“White Buffalo” was produced with consultation from Jeff Sprague and Victoria Voges from the Nokomis Learning Center, a Native American cultural resource, and Eva Menefee from LCC. Riverwalk is also collecting donations to erect a memorial for the Burt Lake burn-out, a forced relocation measure that took place in 1900.

All of these scenes are full of crisp dialogue and passionate exchanges of deep emotion — except when they are not, moments when it feels like all the air has gone out of the room.

Chalk this up to Zolodis’ script, which could have benefited from some careful pruning here and there. Narratives suffer from over explanation, conversations sometimes drift into “where exactly is this going?” Individual actors, however, each have their moments-in-the-sun, Clark, in particular, completely inhabits her stress-driven character, the exasperated, emotionally starved Carol Gelling, while Nikolovski articulates the deep cynicism and bitterness of John Two Rivers estranged from his tribal family.

Bloss, as Mike, unfolds a deeply painful recollection of the death of the couple’s 4 -year-old child. While Anderson Wilkes, played by Jeff Boerger, lives the role of a crusty, creaky, aging millionaire rancher, who ambles in to buy the calf for $2 million.

He lets it roam freely on his multi-acre ranch adjacent to Sioux territory.

The resolution is somewhat incomplete in this play.

John Two Rivers announces he is returning to his roots in Lakota Sioux territory.

Abby decides to go with him, leaving Carol and Mike with $2 million and an uncertainty as to what this means for them. Will they reconcile? Has the Buffalo calf symbolically brought them back together?

“White Buffalo”

Riverwalk Theatre March 1-4 and 8-11 Tickets start at $12 www.riverwalktheatre.com