Darrell Dennis isn’t at home on the range. Yes, Dennis is a native Canadian, a full-blooded Cree, but he’s attired in jeans rather than buckskin and is more likely to wield a cell phone than a tomahawk. In Tales of an Urban Indian, his semi-autobiographical one-man show about an actor named Simon Douglas, Dennis works to dispel various stereotypes: “I can’t shape-shift. I’ve never had a vision. . . . And I’ve never cried when I saw someone litter,” says Douglas. Yet while Dennis ably refutes this set of assumptions, he embraces another—the structure and conventions of the confessional solo show.
In 90 minutes, Dennis details the adventures of his childhood, subsequent years spent drinking and drugging in Vancouver, and his eventual redemption. It’s all very Bury My Liver at Wounded Knee. The writing isn’t strong and the jokes are unrelievedly terrible, as when Dennis describes a teenage girl who “had those long legs that went all the way up and made an ass of themselves. And us.” As is typical of the genre, Dennis occasionally dispenses with his own narrative to portray his grandmother, father, mother, and various friends and girlfriends. He has no great gift for mimicry, though he does offer an exuberant turn as the lead cockroach in his unsavory apartment.
The play concludes that Simon just has to learn to be himself, a rather tired premise. However, despite the defects of his writing and the feebleness of his impressions, Dennis has a lovely theatrical presence—charming, high-spirited, a little dorky, and a little anguished. Dennis may claim a disconnection with nature—”I get lost when I’m in the woods,” he insists—but onstage, he’s wonderfully natural.