A good trophy Navaho is hard to find.
Henry Carson (Christopher Rutherford), a nebbishy curator of indigenous people at an Orlando theme park, discovers this the hard way in Eric Coble’s ironic comedy Natural Selection. This area premiere is given a rousing production at Single Carrot Theatre under the skilled direction of Nathan Fulton.
You can’t be too bleeding heart-sensitive to enjoy the play, which skewers race relations and ethnic stereotyping in a raucous, pointed manner. But playwright Eric Coble isn’t just lobbing cultural grenades—he knows of what he speaks, having been born in Scotland and raised on Navaho and Ute reservations in the States. His satiric send-up of Indian mythology, modern technology and global pedagogy is at once on-target and deftly comical.
Henry, up for a performance review from his stiff-backed boss (Lyndsay Webb) at the Epcot-like Wonder World, decides to go for the big game. He steps out from behind his computer screen to venture into the real world, scary as that sounds. Enlisting the aid of gonzo adventurer Ernie Hardaway (Elliott Rauh), Henry travels to the Southwest desert to hunt down what he believes is a genuine Navaho.
His quarry is meant to be placed in the park’s Cultural Fiesta section, where he will supposedly spend his days placidly weaving rugs. However, Zhao Martinez (Aldo Pantoja) will have no parts of beads-stringing and other indigenous crafts. The Mexican American is instead an instigator and catalyst, using the Native American folklore Henry feeds him to unleash an apocalypse of mammoth proportions.
Zhao also disrupts Henry’s home life—for the better. His wife Suzie (Jessica Garrett) is glued to her blog, commenting on conversations and events as they are happening and barely tearing her eyes away to microwave dinner. Their young son Terrance (Maximillian Kezar or Jamar Taylor) plays in the school orchestra and participates in the class play—although he is green-screened into the activities and cyber-coached while he remains isolated and alone in his room.
Everyone is connected by laptop or cell phone, but profoundly disconnected from each other. Zhao’s presence emboldens Henry to tap into his inner savage, which in turn re-invigorates his marriage. Not to ruin one of the most funny and sexy scenes in the play, but who knew sloppy joe mix could be a marital aid?
The actors portray end of the world as we know it chaos with unhinged glee, especially Mr. Rauh as the hyperbole-spewing, accident-prone Ernie Hardaway, and the wiliness of Mr. Pantoja’s coyote-like Zhao.
The characters in Natural Selection experience a hurricane—literally and personally. “The world is too small for epic adventure,” Susie comments, observing that the internet, real-time, and Facebook friends have shrunk our world to the size of a pixel. Zhao and a newly enlightened Henry beg to differ. They envision a world without the old borders and assumptions, where the revolution will not be televised, but in-the-moment live.
by Eric Coble
directed by Nathan Fulton
produced by Single Carrot Theatre
reviewed by Jayne Blanchard
Natural Selection plays thru October 31, 2010 at Single Carrot Theatre, 120 W. North Avenue, Baltimore, MD (at the Load of Fun building). Tickets call 443-844-9253 or http://www.singlecarrot.com
Running time: 2 hours and 15 minutes, with intermission