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Stereotype of the Month Entry

Another Stereotype of the Month entry:

From a review of the play "Shooting Craps" in the LA Times, 2/5/01: Carmine (Gould) lives with his 93-year-old terror of a mother, Lena (Laura James). Carmine's niece, Joanna (Sonja Alarr), is the local mayor, her approval rating presently in the toilet. A gambling casino would clinch her reelection. Snag? No Native American tribe in the vicinity.

So Carmine and his crony, Charlie Fox (Greg Lewis), get in touch with one Fabio Calabrese, just out of the pokey in Chicago. Fabio sends to New Jersey "a full-blooded Agua Caliente" Indian, name of Chief Buffalo Calf, a hash-smoking con man whose real name is Herschel Grossback.

There's something hilariously cheap in hauling out this kind of ethnic shtick in 2001. But Dulack makes precious little of his faux Native American, played in strenuous Bob Denver fashion by Alan Altshuld. No jokes, no invention, no nothing with this key role. Which means there's a large hole in "Shooting Craps" where the comic engine should go.

Rob's comment
Reviewer Michael Phillips was too kind to Tom Dulack's new play, "Shooting Craps." The concept isn't just dopey, it's stereotypical and racist. Let's examine how.

The problem with this play isn't humor at the expense of the Indian character. According to the review, there isn't any of that brand of humor. The problem is that the concept trivializes Indian culture.

In today's well-regulated environment, opening a casino is a big undertaking. No single Indian can do it, or guarantee it can be done. Casinos are owned and operated by tribes, not by lone Indians. Even a tribal "chief" can't make such a decision without going through many hoops.

If a mayor tried this scheme, people would expose the "Indian's" lack of credentials with one phone call or Internet search. And no one with the slightest knowledge would believe an Indian named Chief Buffalo Calf. A tribe's president or chairperson is a public figure, not someone you can invent.

The Agua Caliente band of Indians, a real California tribe, should sue Dulack over the slight. This play makes it seem as if the entire tribe is fictional. How would you feel if someone tried to get away with playing your head of government? How would George W. Bush feel if someone named Peter Pig-Face claimed to be U.S. president?

Let's note for the record that this isn't about political correctness. The play doesn't mock the faux Indian, so that isn't the issue. The issue is the opposite. The play treats the faux Indian as a realistic ploy.

To make the trivializing nature of "Shooting Craps" clear, imagine a mayor who wants to redevelop a ghetto. She proposes a dance revue featuring a black man (because all black men have rhythm, right?). She can't find a good candidate, so she disguises someone in blackface. This fraud is supposed to fool the black community, the media, and a skeptical city.

Does that sound stupid or what? It makes everyone look bad, but especially the black community. It implies blacks might be foolish enough to let such a scheme happen.

"Shooting Craps" might've been plausible in 1901, but it isn't in 2001. Its premise is neither funny nor credible. What it is is ignorant.

Related links
The facts about Indian gaming

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