Greg Sarris Explores Gentle Native American Point of View
by Barry David Horwitz
Masterful short story writer Greg Sarris has crafted a subtle and striking story of a naïve Native American youth, who travels back from Mexico to his birthplace in Santa Rosa, California. What he finds there at his deceased mother’s home is scary.
In Santa Rosa, at his aunt and cousin’s home, he quickly encounters suspicious motives, veiled insults, and hostile manipulation. Enigmatic L. Duarte plays dangerous Aunt Eldine with intriguing sharp edges. Mysterious Ixtlán plays her son, Cousin Marco, with flair and sly wit—a delight to watch.
Sarris puts us into the mind of the young main character Salvador, played with charm and wonderment by Christian Jimenez. Narrating Salvador’s story in the famed Word for Word read & act out loud style, Jimenez crafts a boy who observes what is happening around him. But he keeps his understanding to himself.
The story is packed with memorable characters, all brought to life in the witty, choreographed movement by director Gendell Hing-Hernández. Watch those clever moving panels that change the setting for each scene.
The inimitable Rudy Guerrero plays a predatory rancher and a stallion to perfection. Carolina Marones plays a fetching potential girlfriend. Ryan Tasker plays a warm, helpful farm manager. All the roles are familiar, touching, and delightfully executed. Bravo, “Word for Word”!
The short story makes it clear that the Native American/Mexican young man is a US Citizen. But the people around him treat him like someone to profit from—he slowly loses faith in the people he trusted.
Salvador, an innocent victim of predatory Americans, is rejected and exploited, like Jesus. He gives them every chance to act decently—but even his aunt and cousin are up to no good. They are stealing his wages, maybe selling drugs—the hints tantalize.
Even though he enters the country of his birth legally, people are ready to take advantage of his labor, his honesty, and his sexuality. “Citizen” offers a brilliant display of the obstacles to an honest life in the U.S. The country is full of snares, traps, and trickery to defraud Salvador.
Salvador—our Savior—walks the steps of Jesus as he flees the attacks on his independence—always turning the other cheek. Finally, he runs away and crouches in the fields, a hunted man.
The characters narrate and act out their stories—in Word for Word’s unique style, which adds subtle wit to their interplay. Our entire sympathy is with Salvador as he becomes wise. Sarris gets us to identify with the only character who learns to stand against the constant attacks on his independence. Finally, Salvador refuses to be a pawn in the grim workforce.
With clever settings and terrific talent, along with some ingenious props and vibrant lighting, the story hurtles to its surprising ending. Each actor plays several roles, and each role reveals another turn of our screwy U.S. ways. Sarris’ story hold the mirror up to us.
There’s lots of rich comedy, as Salvador is thrust into twisted encounters between citizens and supposedly helpless immigrants. Don’t miss this brilliant exposition of the way we are.
“Citizen” by Greg Sarris, directed by Gendell Hing-Hernández, by Word for Word & Z Space, San Francisco. Info: zspace.org – to November 12, 2023.
Cast: Christian Jimenez, L. Duarte, Lisa Hori-Garcia, Rudy Guerrero, Ixtlán, Carolina Morones, and Ryan Tasker.
Banner photo: “La Vieja de la calle … was either vengeful or sorrowful.” Rudy Guerrero, Christian Jimenez, Ixtlán, Carolina Morones, & Lisa Hori-Garcia. Photos by Robbie Sweeny