Still Crazy Horse after all these years
Crazy Horse and Custer
Sacramento Theatre Company stepped into a cultural hornet’s nest in staging this two-actor show about the iconic Lakota warrior and the man white America reveres for failing. Crazy Horse and Custer, by Sacramento playwright Jon George, looks at the destruction of Native Americans as part of the United States’ ongoing vision of “manifest destiny,” but it does so in a way that the descendants of the man most of us know as Crazy Horse find offensive.
The protests from Lakota tribal members led to a script rewrite, but the changes were not entirely satisfactory from the perspective of Crazy Horse’s descendants; the problem arises from the main theatrical premise of the play: the “ghosts”—afterlife spirits—of both the warrior and the cavalry officer in conversation. This is at the heart of the play, since there is no way that Crazy Horse (Louie Leonardo), who informs us that his name is more accurately translated as “Horses Are Crazy,” would ever have been able to have the conversation with George Armstrong Custer (Kirk Blackinton) that is the basis of this play.
While the arguments about cultural appropriation and respect for spiritual beliefs are relevant to art—this is the same sort of discussion that surrounds representations of Mohammed or Jesus—as a play, and using a theatrical premise with a long history, Crazy Horse and Custer has much to recommend it. Leonardo’s performance is top-notch, though heavier on the anger and resignation than anything else. As Custer, Blackinton surmounts an appallingly bad blond wig to give the character a touch of vulnerability beneath the well-known bluster and ambition.
Directed by Michael Laun, Crazy Horse and Custer is an opportunity—always needed—to rethink our history. It’s also a good reminder that, although the Battle of the Greasy Grass, which we remember as the Little Big Horn, was fought 137 years ago, we’re still blasting away.
Or, to paraphrase William Faulkner, “The past isn’t over. It isn’t even past.”