In the late 19th century, curiosity about American Indian culture was running high, and the U.S. government employed field anthropologists to conduct research—and to draw the Indian nations into the consumer economy. One such expedition resulted in the celebrated discovery of a Zuni tribesman who, as a “two-spirit,” transcended sex roles within Zuni culture.
Names are changed to protect the intent: Wilson (Jay Perry, pictured left) is a bookish, fastidious ethnologist who goes native, living among the Zuni and entering into a domestic relationship with Lamana (Joe Debevc, pictured right). Meanwhile, Tullis (April Fossen) insists upon maintaining a sort of scientific distance from the community—until her triumphal return to Washington, D.C., with her Zuni two-spirit specimen in tow.
Randy Rasmussen’s geometric set design is ingenious: A stack of sandstone-textured hexahedral volumes evokes the vast, open landscapes of New Mexico. Yet its arrangement encloses an intimate area suitable for private human interactions. The towering structure is surrounded at its base by grains of corn in an alternating, irregular concentric pattern that not only suggests the play of light upon desert sands, but even seems to encompass a sacred, mandala-like theatrical space.
Behind the scenery hangs a large, Japanese lantern-style globe that, according to Jesse Portillo’s warm-or-cool lighting cues, may adopt either a solar or lunar aspect. For such a simple and elegant device to indicate the passing of time, it’s got a big psychological impact.