Theater archives

Pocahontas, and/or America: Going Native


The stories found in our history books aren’t always exactly true. Little Lord’s Pocahontas, and/or America, currently at the Bushwick Starr, uses the famous colonial story of the feisty Native American princess to illustrate the misconceptions our formal education has introduced and how that affects our culture today.

Prior to the show’s beginning, ushers encourage audience members to check out “artifacts” scattered around the small DIY theater’s space: a copy of the Disney movie Pocahontas, a Cleveland Indians logo, and one of those arrow-through-the-head gag headbands. The troupe then launches into the familiar tale, but does so in chaotic, free-form style, with different actors playing the same roles at various times. Little Lord’s director Michael Levinton even switches up the styles of performance—sometimes comedic, sometimes dramatic, often breaking the fourth wall. (They even dedicate one section to “how to win an Obie.”)

This self-awareness in Pocahontas leavens heavier themes. Imagine a group of people hanging out at a bar, all telling their own versions of a story, jumping in to finish each other’s sentences. Names are forgotten. Details aren’t exact. The facts blatantly change. The styles of storytelling allow potentially cliché tropes of imperialism and savagery to feel fresh and progressive. Despite its gripping goofiness, the two-hour show does drag, but thankfully saves itself with quick, clever gags, like introducing John Smith—played by a woman.

Amid its silliness, Pocahontas manages to strike more poignant chords. The play asks questions about why we still, in the year 2013, have Redskins sports teams and Land O’Lakes butter labels. Beneath its satire, Pocahontas slathers on some troubling truths.