Joan Henry in Off-Off-Broadway CEDARS
The recent New York City premiere of the Off-Off-Broadway play Cedars slated for January 22 – February 1 at the world-renowned La MaMa Experimental Theatre, Lower East Side, featured actors Joan Henry, Wolfen de Kastro, John Scott Richardson, Alana LaMalice and Matt Langer.
Cedars is a passionate and raw play based on contemporary Native American poetry that weaves together dance, drums, prose and text. Performed by Native American actors and adapted & directed by June Prager, Cedars gives a 21st century face to the struggles of indigenous people, depicting their adaptation into modern-day society and celebrating Native American culture, enduring spirit and ultimate resilience.
Front Row Center ‘s review by Constance Rodgers says:
“The five actors thoughtfully move from one character and vignette to another carrying the audience along gracefully… The actors have great stage presence and are very adept at transitioning, often before our eyes, from one character to another. There is some traditional singing and dancing but this is not a play about traditional American Indian music and dance but about contemporary Native American thoughts and perspectives. All of the actors sing, and they all have strong melodic voices. Joan Henry, however, stands out in a moving, cry-turned-song rendition of Amazing Grace sung in Tsalagi (Cherokee). This performance, along with Henry’s portrayal of a mother’s anguish when she hears that the officer who killed her young son was acquitted, are so exquisitely real it feels we are watching a deeply personal, private moment and that, maybe, out of respect, we should turn our heads.”
The play is a multi-disciplinary collage of poetry/prose text, masks, drumming, and music performed by five Native American actors. It draws adroitly on the talents of those actors – Wolfen de Kastro (Aztec/Huastec/Maya), Joan Henry (Cherokee/Nde’/Arawak), John Scott Richardson (Haliwa-Saponi/Tuscarora), Alana LaMalice (Dene/Cree) and Matt Langer (Dakota).
Of the La Mama production, Theater Scene New York critic R. Pikser observed:
“The two senior performers, Joan Henry and Wolfen de Kastro, most successfully entered into each poem and brought characterizations and an inner life to the various characters they portrayed, At the same time, they exploited the sounds of the language they were using and the images evoked. Ms. Henry was particularly protean. Each of her characters was clearly defined and lived fully for the space of the poem. It was impossible not to watch her. “
Participating writers include: Arthur Tulee (Yakama), Tiffany Midge (Hunkpapa Sioux), Gail Tremblay (Onondaga/Mik’maq), Deborah A. Miranda (Ohlone-Costanoan Esselen), Alex Jacobs (Akwesasne Mohawk), William Michael Paul (Hunkpapa Sioux), Joseph Bruchac (Abenaki), Martha Brice (Tlingit), Molly McGlennen (Anishinaabeg), and Evan Pritchard (Mik’maq). The director collaborated with composer Charles Upham (Blackfeet) and mask designer Roger Fernandes (Lower Elwha s’Klallam).
Diane Fraher of Amerinda, Inc. in NYC:
“For Native people in the NYC area to hear Native voices sharing long-standing personal and community issues in an innovative way validates the spirit of self-determination, pride, and hope that has been growing in the Native community. CEDARS fits in with our mission to empower Native Americans, break down barriers, and foster intercultural understanding and appreciation for Native culture.”
Originally premiering in Seattle in 2002, the play was re-imagined for its NYC premiere with new text, movement & stage-design, and with traditional songs provided by Joan Henry & John Scott Richardson. Following a residency at Vassar College, staged readings were presented this past year in NYC at the Living Theatre and La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club. Cedars was co-produced with La MaMa Theatre by the Mirage Theater Company and Amerinda Inc.