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September 27, 2001 Native life with an ironic twist: Moses



Daniel David Moses

Playwright-poet Daniel David Moses

by James Martin

It was a case of too many people, too few chairs, as 75 people crammed into H-762 to hear this year’s Concordia writer-in-residence, Toronto playwright-poet Daniel David Moses.
Starting with poetry, the soft-spoken, bespectacled Moses selected a very personal poem from last year’s collection, Sixteen Jesuses.

One of several poems crafted around lunar imagery, “Breakdown Moon” is the poet’s meditation on his sister’s schizophrenia, an illness fraught with uncertainty. “So you say Goodbye / to the Moon instead,” he read. “That’s easier done. / She loses her head / right on schedule.”

Moses jumped from dark to dawn with a second family poem, “Aubade About Dad,” followed by the elegiac “Last Blues,” dedicated to the late dancer René Highway.

Moses, a Delaware, raised on the Six Nations lands on the Grand River in Ontario Voice, is a prolific playwright, particularly about native issues. He told an anecdote about Coyote City, his 1988 play about displaced natives struggling to withstand the challenges of materialism presented by city life.

During rehearsals, an actor’s persistent questions — “But what happens to my character after the play?” — made him indignant, then amused, then inspired. He wrote a sequel, Big Buck City.
The opening scene comes from a scatological/theological epigram in Milan Kundera’s novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being, especially the phrase, “He is not responsible for man’s crimes. . . . The responsibility for shit, however, rests entirely with Him.”

Big Buck City opens with a confrontation on Christmas Eve between a street preacher and a package-laden shopper. Reading both roles, Moses drew laughter with his darkly comic dialogue.

The piece was born at a 24-hour playwriting contest in Whitehorse. Moses had gone into the contest with specific ideas for a new play, but the muse had other plans, and he found himself inexplicably fixated on some Old West characters he’d created years earlier.

Fourteen hours later, Moses completed first drafts of The Moon and Dead Indians and The Angel and the Medicine Show, two one-act plays later collected as The Indian Medicine Shows (1995).

He set the scene for The Moon and Dead Indians. On the porch of a lonely cabin in the foothills of New Mexico, in1878, a widow cradles a rifle while quietly singing hymns. Her son appears, fresh from visiting a travelling medicine show. The two converse about Civil War ghosts and vanished natives.

Like the Big Buck City excerpt, their brief exchange hinted at bizarre things to come. Moses let it hang in the air. “Well,” he said, closing his book. “That’s kind of a weird beginning, isn’t it?”

Concordia’s writer-in-residence, Daniel David Moses, is available for one-on-one student consultations and guest lectures. Book appointments through the English Department, 848-2340.