As you know, our beloved Frybread Queen began her reign at Montana Rep last weekend and, of course, our Artistic Director, Executive Director, and Managing Director (Randy, Jeannie, and David) all made the trip to Missoula to witness her debut. Caroline, Jenn, and I didn't want to be left out so we insisted that Jeannie send us a few pictures from the road (to the left you'll see one of the yummy lunches she made us drool over) and give us something we can share with all of you. Her entry is below. Enjoy the read!
What an opening!
First of all, Carolyn has written an extraordinary play – a love story, a ghost story, a story full of surprise twists and turns that kept the audience on the edge of their seats. The characters are deep, their relationships complex, and the secrets they keep – dark and powerful!
We’ve had such a wonderful time working with Carolyn over the past three years as she’s shaped and crafted her story (originally a novel) into this play. We’ve had numerous workshops and staged readings with exceptionally talented actresses, directors and dramaturges providing Carolyn with the opportunity to hear her words in workshops and with an audience. Getting the play up on its feet was the next step in our development process so we asked Carolyn to continue her work revising her play with Jere Hodgin as director and Robert Caisley as dramaturg.
One of the main things we wanted to explore was the presence of the dearly departed son, father, husband and lover – Paul – who we never see on stage, but who is there from the beginning. All four of the women feel him, see him or are possessed by him. This developmental co-production would give us the opportunity to fine tune the script and, for the set, lighting, and sound designers, to create those things that would make Paul real not only for the actresses but for the audience as well.
Jere cast the play with four superb actresses. Jane Lind gave a tour de force performance as Jessie, the tough Navajo grandmother who's left to pick up the pieces of her life while trying to protect her granddaughter Lily who was played with rebellious glee by Tiffany Miewald. Lily Gladstone as Carlisle, the good Cherokee auntie with the sweet façade, tries to console the devastated Lily and keep the peace while Arigon Starr as Annalee, the stepmom and outsider, clashes with Jessie over who’s to blame for Paul’s sorrows. Possessed by her own demons and regrets, Annalee, an Oklahoma Creek lawyer who is dying of lung cancer, desperately clings to life and her claim on Lily, determined to rid the family of its ghosts. Each of the performers was pitch perfect. Their interactions with each other were honest and truthful and their reactions to Paul’s presence made him all the more real to the audience.
Scenic designer Johanna Josephian gave us a realistic set complete with a creaky screen door, a comfy old rocker, a wobbly picnic table and an old fashioned two-seater glider that moved on its own whenever Paul wanted to make his presence felt. She was aided by lighting designer Mark Dean and sound designer Jayson L. Ferguson who continued to up the ante each time Paul was “on stage” with swirling lights, a flicker, an ominous glow and the sounds of breath, wind, thunder, a slamming screen door or subtle music. It all worked and it all made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. Judging by the way the audience leaned forward in their seats whenever they felt Paul’s presence - Paul was definitely in the theater and on that stage!
I’d like to thank everyone involved with this production from its earliest readings to this wonderful production. I’d also like to congratulate Montana Rep and the University of Montana for their commitment to Native theater and the Native voice. We are proud to have had the encouragement and support of UM President George M. Dennison, Provost Royce C. Engstrom, Dean Stephen Kalm, and The College of Visual and Performing Arts.
We are especially thankful to The School of Theatre & Dance and its Director Mark Dean, and to Montana Rep and its Artistic Director Greg Johnson. We’ve had such a wonderful time collaborating with them this year and they did such a great job getting the word out and getting a Native American audience in to see the show – many of whom attended the invited preview performance and after party at the beautiful Payne Family Native American Center on campus. They had lots of help from the American Indian Student Services and its Director Fredrika Hunter, and The Department of Native American Studies. We were thrilled when a Native student commented during the talk back that this was the first play she’d ever been to and that she came because of the storyline and the chance to see four Native women on stage!
We look forward to the next steps on our way to the world premiere of The Frybread Queen next March at The Autry. Join us on our journey when we do our final workshop and readings of The Frybread Queen on November 4th and 7th during the American Indian Arts Marketplace at the Autry. Carolyn, Jere and Rob will work with a local cast to iron out the last few issues with the text. Check out the Autry Calendar for more information on our November readings and email NativeVoices@theautry.org to make your reservations today.