Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Jim Pepper Project—Triangle Productions!—NE Portland



And the beat goes on…
This show is written by Donnie and directed by Don Horn.  It is playing at their space at 1785 NE Sandy Blvd. through May 31st.  For more information, go to their site at www.tripro.org or call 503-239-5919.

The story is, in part, about Jim Pepper, a Native American jazz musician, and partly about the history of the Native Americans and Afro-Americans in our history.  They are both huge subjects and to try and cover them in an hour provides only a thumb-nail sketch of both.  What is contained in that short space of time is fascinating but it leaves you only wanting for more.

Jim Pepper (M. Cochise Anderson) was influenced by Afro-American music and raised with the rhythms of Native American music.  He decided to combine the two and came up with his own unique brand of Jazz.  Playing both Flute and Sax, one of his creations actually was at the top of the charts for awhile.  He was also invited to be the Music Director for a Kennedy Center production during the Reagan era.

But all was not a bed of roses.  Unscrupulous business managers cheated him out of much of his money and the rights to his songs.  He also ran afoul of drink and drugs and went through down periods because of this.  The playing of his music in the show was refreshing and was truly very good.  And Pepper was well-versed in Native lore because of his grand-father (Ed Edmo).

Much of Native American history is shared by Sun Carrier (Karen Kitchen) and Black history is contributed by Sundiata (Salim Sanchez).  And they are also storytellers, relating the saga of the Rabbit and the Alligator.  Also on hand, to further their history, are the Tribal Dancers, Solomon Trimble and Chenoa Landry.

The connection between the Afro-Americans and Native Americans I was not aware of.  Both races were slaves to the Whites and had no rights as citizens.  The Indian was thrown off any good lands and confined to reservations.  They were forced to speak and write in English, discard any customs, religion and clothes they had and, essentially, become “White.”

We are horrified when we hear of other countries doing this to their people and yet we basically had done the same thing to the Indians and Blacks.  Sundiata compared it to the way the Nazis treated the Jews.  For all our Country’s riches, we are really very poor when it comes to how we treat people of color.

The video at the beginning and the slide show helped express what we may have lost in the translation between Nature’s gifts and our “manufactured” ones, on our way to becoming a “civilized’ country.  It reminded me of the scene in Soylent Green, the story of an over-populated earth, when Edward G. Robinson sees a film about how this world looked before we opted to change it.  Both this and Don’s film could bring a tear to your eye.  Look what we’ve done to our song.

Don, as always, has a very sensitive hand when working with his actors and writing material.  But, as I said, both Jim Pepper and the history of Native Americans are fascinating subjects but each theme could afford a full-length show on their own.  What we have is a tasty glimpse of each but we would like more, please.

And the lighting by Jeff Woods adds greatly to creating the moods of the pieces.  The acting is somewhat uneven and there seemed to be some fluffed lines when I saw it, but it is early in the run and I’m sure these will be ironed out.  Salim Sanchez came off the best in the acting department and was quite effective in his role.

I would recommend this show but hope it will be developed even more into his fascinating life and/or into the tragic Native American/Black history experience.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.