Like an menacing episode of Antiques Roadshow, Julia Jarcho’s American Treasure examines the relics of U.S. history and reveals a past both perverted and preserved. The play, produced by 13P, imagines a buckskinned return of the repressed, a world in which wronged Native Americans exact brutal retribution. The play centers on Hort Cage (Aaron Landsman), “a history detective,” and the drifter (Jenny Seastone Stern) who hires him to discover who scalped her sister. The plot eventually encompasses a mysterious creature called the “Hauntus,” events at the Smithsonian, and a cabal composed of Pa Ingalls, Lewis and Clark, and Jerry Bruckheimer.
Jarcho writes in a style at once distinct and imitative. Though singular, her prose owes debts to Raymond Chandler novels, elementary school pageants, and the comic dystopias of playwrights such as Len Jenkin and Mac Wellman. While Landsman and Stern both give appealing performances, Jarcho may wish to hire a different director. (As the current director is Jarcho, one anticipates an awkward exit interview.) A surer hand would have found more distinct rhythms for the scenes and more confident ways to navigate among them. Nevertheless, she offers a play that is ominous, audacious, and frequently affecting. Not bad for a paleface.