Palestine, New Mexico



What a crazy, mishmosh of a play this one is. Set on an Indian "rez," PALESTINE, NEW MEXICO's ingredients include a female U.S. Army captain (Kirsten Potter), the tribe's chief (Russell Means) and many of his followers, including a man called Top Hat (Richard Montoya, the playwright), a goofy medicine woman (Geraldine Kearns), a numbskull Homeland Security officer (Herbert Siguenza), an AK-47-toting psycopath (Ric Salinas), and Dacotah (Julia Jones), a young woman whose husband was recently killed in Afghanistan.

Added to the mixture are jokes about peyote, sweat lodges, Pashtuns and the Lost Tribes of Israel--and that's just for starters. Montoya, you see, is a member of the L.A.-based Latino comedy group, Culture Clash, which for twenty-five years has launched one satirical assault after another on California's dominant Anglo establishment, in shows like Carpa Clash, Chavez Ravine and Bordertown. Think of Culture Clash as the Chicano Marx Brothers.

In recent years, though, the trio--make that Montoya-- has sought to get a little bit more serious about life. His investigation of L.A.'s political scandals, Water & Power, premiered at the Taper five years ago; now Montoya has followed it up with PALESTINE, NEW MEXICO (directed by Lisa Peterson). In this one, he attempts to uncover the true identity of the Indian tribe headed by Means and link it, in a pan-universal way, to the Pashtun tribe we are at odds with in Afghanistan. It's a family-of-man theme.

Montoya chances a lot with PALESTINE, NEW MEXICO. He also comes up with a startling bit of history--that some of the New Mexico tribes were secret Jews. Originally Spaniards who were forced to convert to Christianity during the Inquistion, they arrived in the USA with the Conquistadors, settled in the red hills of New Mexico and eventually took on the trappings of Native Americans, all the while clinging in secret to their Hebrew identity and rituals.

When the bereft Capt. Siler visits the rez to give the Chief a letter his son Ray had written before he died in battle in Afghanistan, she is shocked to encounter hostility and paranoia on all sides. Courageously, she refuses to leave the rez, not only because she had promised to deliver the letter but because she has a mystery to solve involving Ray's army buddy, an Indian from a nearby "enemy" tribe called Suarez (Justin Rain).

These serious elements are explored in diligent fashion, only to be broken up by comic shticks and pratfalls, much buffonery and wisecracking ("Where is Tiger Woods?" someone suddenly asks). It all takes place on a large, elaborate set which occasionally becomes the backdrop for a peyote-powered, psychedelic lightshow or a battlefield projection replete with exploding bombs, praying Arabs and ghostly figures.

Much of PALESTINE comes off as funny, some of it is touching, but the mixture never quite jells and becomes digestible.

(Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave. Call 213-628-2772 or visit