In its mandate to develop and produce new works for the stage by Native American playwrights, Native Voices at the Autry has a winner in scripter Diane Glancy’s “Salvage,” an emotionally searing perusal of one family’s efforts to transcend tragedy.Played out in a series of scenic vignettes, Glancy’s one-acter insightfully delves into the psyches of three troubled souls as each attempts to cull the spiritual strength to combat forces that are gathering to annihilate them. Ably allied in this effort are helmer Sheila Tousey and a character-perfect ensemble of three. Eking out a hardscrabble existence operating a salvage yard on the outskirts of the Blackfeet Reservation in northwestern Montana, Wolf (Noah Watts) depends on his work ethic and devotion to his wife and children for emotional stability. Wolf’s adoring wife Memela (Elena Finney) is committed to her Christian faith to combat horrific memories of an impoverished childhood. Wolf’s aging father Wolfert (Robert Greygrass-Owens), mourning the loss of his wife, is devoted to the ancient ways of the Blackfeet people. When, in a moment of distraction, Wolf is involved in a deadly auto accident that kills and maims members of a neighboring family, Wolf’s family is swept into a downward spiral of doubt, recrimination and vengeance. Glancy is captivatingly economical with scenic structure and dialogue, revealing only the essence of the conflicting interactions that set each protagonist on an individual journey for survival. Tousey admirably guides Glancy’s thematic throughline steadily forward, keeping the ensemble focused on the scripter’s intent with little superfluous business or character colorations. The result is inspired performances. Watts immerses himself in the personal demons that drive Wolf to attempt to solve his problems by his strength alone. He also makes viable Wolf’s descent into emotional oblivion and the tentative discovery of a new spiritual center. Finney exudes a haunting amalgam of physical fear and spiritual strength as Memela realizes her world could be torn asunder by events beyond her control. Her character memorably conjures up the resolve to do what is necessary for her and her children’s survival. In a tour de force portrayal, Greygrass-Owens’ Wolfert appears imbued with the sorrow of a lifetime of loss, including his wife and four other children. He projects a deep-seated inner strength that relegates his son and daughter-in-law to the level of callow seekers of truth. Complementing the production are Susan Scharpf’s understated sets, the character-perfect costumes of Christina Wright and the mood-enhancing lights and sounds of R. Craig Wolf and Michel Tyabji, respectively.
Wells Fargo Theater at the Autry National Center; 199 seats; $20 top
A Native Voices at the Autry presentation of a play in one act by Diane Glancy. Directed by Sheila Tousey.
Sets, Susan Scharpf; costumes, Christina Wright; lights, R. Craig Wolf; sound, Michel Tyabji; stage manager, Dale Alan Cooke. Opened, reviewed, Nov. 1, 2008. Runs through Nov. 23. Running time: ONE HOUR, 10 MIN.
Wolf - Noah Watts Memela - Elena Finney Wolfert - Robert Greygrass-Owens