Review: ‘Black Elk Speaks’

A repeat of the highly successful 1993 production in a tighter version revives the eloquent staging of the original, stressing the deceits of the white man and his onslaughts, which repeatedly drove the native American from his cherished lands and destroyed his culture.

A repeat of the highly successful 1993 production in a tighter version revives the eloquent staging of the original, stressing the deceits of the white man and his onslaughts, which repeatedly drove the native In reworking the play, director Donovan Marley has coalesced some repetitions and rubbed over other problem spots, leaving the power of the play undiminished.

In the scheme of the play as before, Black Elk is attempting to educate Hoksila in Lakota religion and Oglala history. The account is favorable to the native Americans, one-sided and without acknowledgement of their possible war crimes. The conclusion argues that native and new Americans should move to redress the crimes both committed.

Black Elk, cousin of Crazy Horse, fought whites at Little Big Horn and Wounded Knee, and traveled to London with the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show where he met Queen Victoria. In 1932, he was interviewed by author Neihardt for his poetic history of the American Indian. Black Elk’s noble vision is of a great people whose closeness to their land imbues them with religious feeling. The pain of surrendering rushing waters, hills rich in game, and burial sites of great spiritual importance is graphically conveyed in Marley’s frequently electrifying imagery, a feverish war dance, an explosive hoop dance and terrible killings.

As Black Elk describes his people’s agonizing history of loss to the white man through wars and broken treaties, such episodes as the arrival of Christopher Columbus, the Colorado Sand Creek Massacre, the battle at Little Big Horn, and the massacre at Wounded Knee are vividly suggested.

Ned Romero as Black Elk is a figure of nobility both in speech and bearing, and Pete Kelly Gaudreault is a striking Crazy Horse, swift and strong in movement and imposing in speech. Jane Lind has a heartbreaking moment as Yellow Woman in the Sand Creed episode.

Nearly 30 full or partly native American actors, singers,and musicians take the roles of historical characters in the community imagined by Sergel and Marley. They portray the stalwart braves, young bucks, and matriarchs with fine spirit and in authentic character.

A stunning musical score has been arranged for flute and drums by Dennis Yerry. Costuming by Andrew V. Yelusich is commanding both in native American dress and in the brilliantly satirical costuming devised for white military officers. Bill Curry’s playing area with cliffs and paintings on deerskin panels , lit with distinction by Don Darnutzer, fulfills the spatial needs of the play to bring grandeur to the production.

Black Elk Speaks

The Stage Theater; 550 seats; $29 top


A Denver Center Theater Company presentation of a play in two acts based on the book by John G. Neihardt, adapted by Christopher Sergel. Directed by Donovan Marley; choreographed by Jane Lind.


Sets, Bill Curley; original music, Dennis Yerry; costumes, Andrew V. Yelusich; lighting, Don Darnutzer, sound, David R. White; stage manager, Lyle Raper. Artistic director, Donovan Marley. Opened Sept. 30, 1994. Running time: 2 HOURS, 20 MIN.


Black Elk - Ned Romero
Hoksila - David Medina
Lucy, Yellow Woman - Jane Lind
Manuelita - Miguel Najera
Crazy Horse, Gen. Carleton, Gen. Custer - Peter Kelly Gaudreault
Andrew Jackson, Little Crow and others - Andrew Martines
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