Review: "Bound" Explores the Bonds of Family, Land, and History from a Native Perspective


Written and directed by Tara Moses 

Presented by AMERINDA at Theatre for the New City

155 First Avenue at 10th Street, Manhattan, NYC

April 25 – May 12, 2019

Dylan Carusona and Elizabeth Rolston. Photo credit: Joe Velez

Near the end of Bound, the new play from Tara Moses, when activist Marigold Page (Elizabeth Rolston) says, “I think I got my point across. Hopefully they’ll listen…,” she could be articulating the mission of the play itself. Presented by American Indian Artists, Inc. (AMERINDA), a Native arts organization founded in 1987 and the only one of its kind in the United States, Bound focuses on issues of Indigenous tribal sovereignty. Moses, a writer, director, and citizen of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma, uses current governmental calls for a border wall and inhumane crackdowns in the name of border security to demonstrate that such developments are not so much ripped-from-the-headlines issues as they are continuations of longstanding, officially sanctioned rapacity and injustice.

Bound juxtaposes parallel narratives in order to situate events such as the violation of sovereignty and reprehensible treatment of Water Protectors at Standing Rock, discussed by the play’s newscasters (the first time, with a dismissively punning transition to the weather), as part of an unbroken historical continuum. In the present day, a chance meeting between Marigold and land surveyor John Morales-Rio (Dylan Carusona) leads first to an impromptu picnic date (during which John argues, entirely correctly, that adding chips to a sandwich is the only proper way to eat one), which in turn leads to more. Marigold, daughter of Tohono O’odham Nation tribal councilman Lee Page (Wolfen St. Michael de Kastro), works unceasingly at a law firm to protect her Nation and its land, as well as to better aid undocumented border crossers. The border, while a political fiction, as all borders are (and, really, all property ownership is as well), nonetheless has a real impact, not least in dividing the Tohono O’odham and their ancestral land along the international border in southern Arizona. John, for example, is a U.S. citizen who resides on the Mexican side of the border.

Matt C. Cross and Ryan Victor Pierce. Photo credit: Joe Velez
The second plot, which takes place in the 1850s, illuminates how people like John came to be in such a situation. We witness then-Secretary of War Jefferson Davis (Nicholas Stauffer) task railroad magnate James Gadsden (Ryan Victor Pierce), who assisted in expelling the Seminole from Florida and Georgia, with securing land from Mexico for the construction of a southern transcontinental railroad, a project that Davis notes will serve not only the interests of large-scale capitalism but also of “southern imperialism” and simultaneously help to secure the future of slavery. Ultimately, Gadsden negotiates with President of Mexico Antonio López de Santa Anna the 1854 purchase of land that bears Gadsden’s name and defined the border between the United States and Mexico. What Santa Anna demands in addition to money in the deal establishes that exploitation of and violence against Indigenous peoples is not restricted to the U.S. side of the border. In the midst of this, and echoing the meeting between John and Marigold, Tohono O’odham woman Tall Woman (Rolston) and Apache man White River (Carusona), who is making a map to help protect sacred sites, encounter one another for the first but not the last time. The changes wrought by land seizure and development bring additional conflicts to their lives, just as they do in the present day narrative, not only in the form of increased harassment by the Border Patrol but also in the fact that John has done work for oil-company representative Adam Kissinger (Pierce).

Wolfen de Kastro. Photo credit: Joe Velez
In tracing these historical throughlines, Bound operates primarily in a mode of bluntly realist polemic, though it immediately establishes a sense of humor about it, playfully identifying Marigold’s opening monologue on connection to ancestral land as a monologue, and identifying various elements throughout the play, such as Marigold’s name being that of a “desert flower” as “a little on the nose.” John remarking on the heavy coat that Kissinger carries at one point, the same coat that Pierce wears as Gadsden, functions similarly, while also reinforcing the parallels between the dual narratives. Those parallels extend to the thematic, including the importance of family─cultural preservation needs future generations, after all─and the importance of thinking beyond boundaries, whether they be tribal, national, or otherwise. The latter point is reinforced by a pair of stories of Coyote, wonderfully told by de Kastro as Page, to whom he brings both empathy and, when necessary, a steely, dignified resolve. Carusona and Pierce also give standout performances in their dual roles, ably supported by characters such as Cross’s likeable reservation store clerk and Stauffer’s pitch-perfect newscaster, and Rolston imbues the climax of the play with palpable emotion.

Marigold says that there is no O’odham word for wall, this time echoing the title of a real-world video released in 2017 by the Tohono O’odham Nation in opposition to the proposed border wall. She also reminds us that on stolen land, no one is illegal; and Bound makes this case not just with anger and tragedy, but with warmth, humor, and heart.

-John R. Ziegler and Leah Richards


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