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"Palestine, New Mexico" At The Mark Taper Forum

By Ed Fuentes
Published: Thursday, December 31, 2009, at 09:56AM
Palestine, NM at the Mark Taper Forum Craig Schwartz

Kristen Potter and Justin Rain in Richard Montoya’s “Palestine, New Mexico,” running until January 24 at the Mark Taper Forum.

Now at the Mark Taper Forum, "Palestine, New Mexico" is a world premiere play written by Culture Clash subversive Richard Montoya, that takes on new disenfranchised tribes while still offering the smart, multicultural zingers one expects from the group.

The fast, 80-minute one-act follows Army Captain Catherine Siler, played by Kirsten Potter, as she journeys into a New Mexico desert, praying and pleading to redeem the mysterious death of Ray Birdsong, a GI who died under her command in Kabul. She finds herself in a formidable fortress of secrets amidst hills of red rocks, confronting generations of tribal characters determined to thwart her intelligence gathering.

She pieces together truths within a set by Rachel Hauck that goes beyond just being a backdrop. By the end, she encounters the confession that the matriarch bloodline of the tribe is Jewish. Who knew?

Father of the fallen GI, Chief Birdsong, knows and stiffly offers that news to the tribe, who themselves nicknamed the town Palestine just to anger the Jewish population that harbored away in the desert. By the end, the work rounds up questions of what religious, political, or moral command one follows, and the answer remains unresolved, forcing an acceptance of how they are multi-tribal.

Before all that, Siler succumbs to a peyote-induced flashback that has her wrestle with images of all her battles and face the threat of a giant 8-foot cactus that walks with the stride of a John Wayne sheriff with arms out like a desert Menora wearing a Jewish star as a badge. That image would certainly have one praying to every God possible.

"Palestine, New Mexico" comes from personal research of Montoya's Jewish roots, and theater styles bounce back and forth from narrative to sketch comedy between Montoya, Ric Salinas and Herbert Siguenza. While the rhythm seemed out of place, the kibitzing was welcomed by an audience familiar with the splintering of social politics that comes from the Culture Clash trio.

There may be grievances for breaking the pace of female actors taking center stage and satire in their hands as they bang doubt and philosophy against the desert rock.

Even with the trauma, "Palestine, New Mexico" manages to be optimistic. Montoya's story about a search in the desert is worth the trip.

"Palestine, New Mexico" is a one act Culture Clash play written by Richard Montoya / Directed by Lisa Peterson / Runs through Jan. 24

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