Spencer tragedy inspires student play

By Shondiin Silversmith
Navajo Times

ALBUQUERQUE, April 11, 2013

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(Courtesy Photo)

TOP: Zee Eskeets premiered her first full-production play "Fadeaway" at the University of New Mexico on April 11. The final showing of her play will be held on April 20.

SECOND FROM TOP: Actress Lynnette Haozous (right) plays out an emotional scene as the female lead Kai Yazzie with actor Jerome Olona (left) who plays Jason Black in the play "Fadeaway."

T he play is called "Fadeaway," but it is intended to shed light on domestic violence as it showcases for the last time at the University of New Mexico Experimental Theatre on April 20.

Masters of Fine Arts student Zee Eskeets, 27, of Albuquerque, N.M. premiered her play at the University of New Mexico over a week ago as part of her dissertation for the dramatic writing program with the university. The Diné student's play is part of the 2013 Words Afire, a festival of new plays.

"I wanted to write something about domestic violence, suicide and alcoholism because those are the things that really effect the rez," said Eskeets. "I wanted to bring light to it."

Eskeets said the story itself is loosely based on a true story. She drew from her own personal experience with domestic violence, but she also wanted to honor her late cousin Brooke Spencer, a Gallup High School basketball star who was a victim of domestic violence.

"It was a shocking thing that happened and it really affected the community," Eskeets recalled. "I would like to think this play is dedicated to her. She got taken away too soon and it's really tragic."

Spencer passed away in 2006 at the age of 18 when her ex-boyfriend Philip Notah stabbed her to death. Notah pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 15 years in prison. He is scheduled for release from prison in 2019.

In the play, the focus is on the relationship of a young Navajo couple, Jason Black and Kai Yazzie.

Yazzie is a basketball star at her high school and dreams of leaving the reservation to play college basketball. Black, on the other hand, feels he can't leave Gallup, N.M. because of the death of his sister. During his sister's funeral, Black removes her bracelet from her coffin, and is haunted by her ghost.

The play takes you through the challenges Black and Yazzie face as a couple.

"It goes from bad to worse to terrible," Eskeets said. "It's a story between Navajo teenagers that live in Gallup. One has dreams of leaving the rez and the other can't leave because he failed a couple of classes. This play was my way of trying to bring light to those issues affecting Native youth."

Lynnette Haozous, 27, is playing the lead female role of Kai Yazzie. She said when she read through the script she was taken back because of the heavy theme of the story.

"I've never had such a challenging role before," she said. "I want to portray it as real as possible."

Added Haozous, "I like the realism of the story line," noting that she can relate to the character because she was a basketball player in high school as well. "I think her play shows the importance of having a way to express yourself."

Eskeets said she named her play "Fadeaway" for a number of reasons. But the main two is after the jump shot in the game of basketball called "the fadeaway" and how her ghost character in the story tells her brother that if he leaves the rez she will fade away.

Eskeets said she grew up around domestic violence and despite being in a bad relationship when she was younger, she figured, "That's just how love went."

"I needed to tell this story so people could realize 'Hey, that's not ok,'" said Eskeets. "People who are scared into being silent, I want them to know they are not alone."

She started writing the play in the fall of 2011, and it has been re-written numerous times before completing the draft for her dissertation.

Eskeets said her main goal with the play was to give a voice to "people who are too scared to talk about domestic violence and alcoholism."

"When people come to see it I think they take away something for themselves," Eskeets said.

She hasn't been one to write a story where the moral is clearly stated, but she hopes that people at least see the "need to treat each other better."

Eskeets is Honaghaahnii, born for Kinlichii'nii and she is originally from Church Rock, N.M.

"Fadeaway" is directed by Joe Alberti, and will be acted one final time on Saturday, April 20 at 2 p.m. at the Experimental Theatre located in the lower floors of Popejoy Hall on the University of New Mexico Campus in Albuquerque.

General admission tickets are $15, $12 for faculty and seniors and $10 for staff and students. Tickets are available at unmtickets.com or by calling 505-925-5858.

Information: 505-277-4332.