Review: Dillon Chitto in Conversation with Laurie Arnold

by Eva Whitney, February 22, 2023

Spring 2023 Artist in Residence Dillon Chitto held a conversation on February 6th, 2023 (event info here). The full recording of the event is viable for viewing on ARC’s YouTube channel, here.

How important is historical accuracy, and who determines an “accurate” account of the past? How does art allow us to access history in a more time-forward way? Dillon Chitto’s Indigifuturisitic play, Pueblo Revolt, sets out to answer these questions, reframing the 1680 Santa Fe Pueblo Revolt—the only successful Native uprising against colonial power in North America—through a modern lens. Following two orphaned brothers, Feem and Ba’homa, Pueblo Revolt watches what ordinary people do in the face of calamity. Taking place in their home, we watch the brothers deal with their dynamic, plot revenge, dream about crushes, play games, and weather the uprising. A comedic, personal, and political play, Pueblo Revolt takes on historical issues from a contemporary standpoint; as Chitto says, “it takes place in the past but is about Natives’ futures.”

Pueblo Revolt debuted at Arts Research Center on February 2 and was followed by a talk on February 6, in which Chitto joined Laurie Arnold, Professor of History and Director of Native American Studies at Gonzaga University, for a conversation facilitated by ARC director and professor Dr. Beth Piatote. The three sat around a table located on the play’s set among tattered cloths, knotted rope, and props. They were surrounded by an audience made up of family, friends, students, and scholars. Pueblo Revolt, in conjunction with an artist’s talk, stirred questions of narrative sovereignty, humor as humanity, and the power of writing your own history.

Chitto, an Indigenous playwright of Mississippi Choctaw, Laguna, and Isleta Pueblo descent, is an artist in residence at ARC and an AlterTheater fellow who weaves his interests in humor, culture, spirituality, and Native experience into his writing. He is the author of Bingo Hall (2017), a finalist for the Sundance Institute’s Uprise Grant in 2022, and winner of Theatre Bay Area’s Rella Lossy award for the best new script. He spent his visit engaging with students at the Native Community Center, hosted by the Native American Student Development Program, as well as visiting classes in the Theater, Dance, & Performance Studies Departments.

Pueblo Revolt is modest on the surface, with only two characters and a single, simple set, yet deftly it achieves profound depth in nuanced, humorous, and tender ways. Following the relationship between brothers Feem and Ba’homa, Chitto examines identity intimately. Feem, a gay man, wrestles with openly expressing his queerness, while Ba’homa feels his Native spirituality to be at odds with the dominant Christianity. Although different from each other in notable ways, the brothers bond over their shared suffering, searching for ways to find freedom under colonial rule. 

In one scene, Feem and Ba’homa lie under a table, playing tic-tac-toe on its underside. They talk, discussing possible solutions to the revolt. When Feem suggests that they shoot arrows over the Spanish, he kicks his legs up. The back-and-forth of the game mimics the back-and-forth between the brothers. Chitto’s choice to conceal them from sight opens up a new sense of intimacy between the audience and the actors. Witnessing this private moment draws us deeper into the characters’ situation, underscoring the mix between the ordinary and the historic. 

from left: Laurie Arnold, Beth Piatote, Dillon Chitto

During the interview, Arnold, a historian and enrolled citizen of the Sinixt Band of the Colville Confederated Tribes, provided an important historical perspective next to Chitto’s creative perspective. A play, she said, can “enliven” the past, making history “forward-looking” and accessible to the general public. There is a way in which the Pueblo Revolt, despite being such a key moment in Native history, gets archived as something only pertinent to the past. A work of art can reawaken history, showing how entwined it is with the present moment. Feem and Ba’homa are not just victims of circumstance—they are full people, alive with humor, crushes, and secrets. Even the lack of an elevated stage, as one student commented, made the play feel as if the audience was witnessing it happening in real life—there was little separation between the actors and the viewers. As Arnold noted, Chitto works to discover new possibilities about the past, putting it in motion, while contributing a Native perspective to the historiographic discussion. 

In the epilogue of Pueblo Revolt, Feem and Ba’homa circle the same table Chitto and Arnold sat, calling out to their ancestors and to those who will come after them. A sense of interconnectedness between the actors and the audience, as well as between the present moment and the historic, rang through the space. Awareness was brought to the small, intimate moments we witness between the brothers, but also the far-reaching effects of the event they are facing. The contrast between the personal and the historic results in an intricate, vibrant play that participates in a centuries-long project of preserving Indigenous voices and working with history as a living, nonlinear thing.   

Bio: Eva Whitney is an undergraduate at UC Berkeley studying comparative literature. Born and raised in San Francisco, she attended Ruth Asawa School of the Arts for creative writing and has been immersed in the city’s art scene her entire life. She has led poetry workshops at 826 Valencia, been a gallery assistant, and currently runs a creative writing publication through the Comparative Literature Department at UC Berkeley as well as works as ARC’s communications assistant. Her work has been featured in NYU’s brio Literary Journal and BAMPFA’s Student Committee Film Festival.