Native American singer-songwriter Arigon Starr channels all the denizens of the All Nations Cafe in Sapulpa, Okla., in this witty, insightful dissection of Native American activism, racial stereotyping, tribal infighting and small-town politics. Helmer Randy Reinholz’s active staging occasionally rushes the action, but Starr displays a facile ability to flow from character to character, assisted by Christina Wright’s minimal costume accents. Also enhancing her perf are Craig Dettman’s colorful cafe setting and the mood-enhancing lights of Leigh Allen.
Accompanying herself nicely on acoustic guitar, Starr wends her way through 18 character-driven tunes that incorporate an eclectic range of styles as she relates the doings at the cafe during a visit from country music star Patty Jones. As Jones prepares to broadcast a live TV special from this old Route 66 truck stop, a colorful menagerie of locals and visitors endeavor to promote their own agendas.
With minimum exposition, Starr exposes the yearnings and hang-ups of such townsfolk as put-upon cafe owner Verna; her chronically depressed 13-year-old niece, Loretta; Verna’s good-looking brother, Merle Jr.; staunchly loyal fry cook Emmitt and his precocious 9-year-old, Beatles-loving son Desmond; outrageous local Creek Indian DJ Clyde; and the insufferably I’m-more-Indian-than-thou activist team of siblings Richard and Bonnie Doolittle. Added to the mix is oddball English rocker Danny Dacron, who’s passionately inspired by all things American Indian while still wary of stray tomahawks.
Starr takes a jaundiced view of many aspects of modern Native American activism and how her people are viewed by the outside world. She pointedly takes on the pecking order of tribal politics as Bonnie asserts that Native American status should be rated by geography, claiming Minnesota-based tribes are the only remaining “real Indians.”
Another hilarious segment focuses on Danny’s myopic musings on the transcendent status of Indians as icons of the Old West.
Starr’s songs underscore this tuner’s thematic throughline. They include punk rocker Danny’s over-the-top “Indian Eyes”; Emmitt’s homage to the diner, “The Menu Song”; Richard’s attention-seeking, Elvis Presleyish “Baby, You’re the Best”; and country singer Jones’ penchant for trucker life (“A Trucker’s Bride,” “A Trucker’s Widow”).
The hard-driving, rap-tinged “Choctaw Blues” and Western swinger “Sapulpa Boogie” also are musical highlights.
Starr’s guitar work offers more than adequate accompaniment, incorporating some dazzling solo licks that serve to set up and highlight her vocals. But an accomplished onstage backup band would do much to free this power-lunged performer and give “The Red Road” a much-deserved chance to move on to a larger venue.