Dr. Susan Proctor
October 26, 2012
Buffalo Bill’s True Character in Indians by Arthur Kopit
“Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it” ~ George Santayana
The quote above by George Santayana clearly depicts Arthur Kopit’s motive of teaching his audience a lesson in Indians by taking the audience on a “hallucinatory” trip through the mind of Col. William F. Cody, the legendary hero also known as Buffalo Bill. The play is based on the historical events of the “Indian Campaigns” that occurred in America in the 1800’s and the resulting genocide due to conflicts between the “white” government and the “red” Native American Peoples (Campbell 20). Kopit includes a page in his play entitled the “Chronology for a Dreamer” showing a list of dates and historical events; however, he assures the reader that his play “derives, in part, from this chronology but does not strictly adhere to it” (Kopit - Introduction). This paper seeks to trace the through line of Buffalo Bill throughout the play and analyze the various personalities and thoughts that he experiences from scene to scene.
In order to fully analyze the main character of Buffalo Bill, an actor who recently played him in a production of Indians at Rockhurst University was interviewed; namely Charles Fugate. From this information, Charles can be classified to take more of an external acting approach which “has more to do with conscious choices about how language is to be spoken, which physical details to emphasize and how emotional content is to be expressed” (Arnold 126). Charles states that he did not draw much from his own psychological experience for Indians since he could relate to Buffalo Bill as being “a showman- a performer” just as himself (Fugate). For this reason, they can both be seen as actors who have a “bag of tricks” to be what and who they wanted to be in their shows. He also states from his past experience that at times, using an internal approach is not very effective since drawing from “personal connections and emotions somehow reduces the effectiveness in the act” (Fugate). It is for this reason that Charles states that he “really focused mostly on what the script” told him that Buffalo Bill was experiencing “instead of what history books” said showing that he focuses more on the external aspects of the play than the internal characteristics of history (Fugate).
Charles states his opinion of the play that “this is a fantasy that the playwright was using to make a point about America and its policies” (Fugate). Indeed this opinion can be agreed upon since the play highlights various important aspects of the treaties signed by the Indians and the senators or the government. According to Sharon Sue Campbell in her 1982 thesis of Indians at the Ohio State University, “Kopit takes Buffalo Bill to a point of self-realization by molding and developing his character from scene 1 – to scene 13.” In scene 1, Buffalo Bill justifies himself and his actions to the “voice” and his audience by saying that he is “a fine man and anyone who says otherwise is WRONG.” He ends this scene by establishing himself to be “A GODDAM HERO!” (Kopit 13 - 14) This scene establishes the main motive of the play which is to learn from history. Buffalo Bill tries to justify himself before his audience as if he is feeling guilty about something he has done. This is an effective way to introduce the play since it allows the audience to wonder why this character is trying to justify himself from the very beginning which then leads to the greater explanatory scenes of the play. Scene 2 then introduces the Senators who have been appointed by “the Great Father” to “decide the fate of the Indians” (Campbell 25). Here Sitting Bull, the Chief Indian appoints John Grass “who had been to the white man’s school at Carlisle” to speak to the senators (Kopit 16). Buffalo Bill then establishes his role as the mediator of these meetings...