'Stone Heart: Everyone Loves a Journey West' premieres
LOS ANGELES -- "White men build Fort Mandan. They name it theirs. With
their language they say it is theirs."
That is something Sacagawea would probably have said, but nobody knows for
sure, because none of the words she uttered during her travels with the
Corps of Discovery were written down in Lewis and Clark's journals. Our
impressions of the young Shoshoni woman are based on speechless statues and
pictures, and scant information about her life and noble deeds noted by
white explorers. We know she was kidnapped from the Shoshoni as a young
girl and sold to a French trapper by the Hidatsa, and that she was a great
asset -- even with a newborn baby on her back -- to Lewis and Clark during
their epic journey to the Pacific Ocean.
But how did Sacagawea feel about all these things?
Her 200-year silence has been broken, if only symbolically, by Cherokee
writer Diane Glancy, who breathes life into the heroine through the device
of a fictional diary of her own. In the play "Stone Heart: Everyone Loves a
Journey West," Sacagawea is full of poetic words that expose her humanity.
Thirza Defoe, who plays the starring role, said it is fascinating to
portray the many colors of Sacagawea.
"She goes through experiences where she's funny, where she's sad, she's
hurt, she's volatile, where she forgives," Defoe said. "She goes through
all these different emotions and it's really incredible to study the
character and to know that in history there was a Native woman like her,
because you don't hear that at all."
Glancy said she found Sacagawea's voice on the banks of the Missouri River,
and that she sought permission to use what she heard contained there within
the spirit of the land and the water.
Her observations are as poignant as they are poetic.
"You know the explorers will change what you are, they will look past you
without thinking," Sacagawea said.
"Stone Heart" opened at the Autry National Center in Los Angeles Feb. 17 to
commemorate the Lewis and Clark bicentennial by offering an alternate view
of the Corps of Discovery's odyssey through the worldviews of an Indian
woman and Clark's slave, York.
The enduring tones of composer Patrick Shendo-Mirabal's flute introduce the
opening scene at the expedition's winter camp at Fort Mandan, where
Sacagawea sits on a bank of the Missouri River and contemplates the long
journey ahead. Winter is coming. She is 16, pregnant, a bit nervous and
"I see horses coming from the sky. I see them change into canoes and I am
rowing. I see my oars are wings."
Both Glancy and Defoe masterfully capture the young woman's vulnerability
and persistence in the face of staggering cultural isolation, as she draws
strength from the natural world that nurtures her.
"One of the things that was a constant in her life is the natural world,"
Defoe said. "The things that are constantly surrounding her, which weave
throughout the show provide a strong foundation for her."
Defoe, an Ojibwe/Oneida hoop dancer from Lac du Flambeau, Wis., received
the Indigenous Heritage Festival award for performing arts in 2004. Her
film credits include "Road Reps" and the Emmy Award-winning "People of the
Jed Reynolds, who depicts York, is a University of California -- Santa
Barbara graduate. He played the lead role of Jackie Robinson in the
award-winning "National Pastime" at Fremont Centre Theatre in South
Actor Tim Glenn plays the combined character of Lewis and Clark. He has
performed in dozens of plays across the country and co-wrote the screenplay
to "Our Last Summer," which is scheduled for production this spring.
The three characters in "Stone Heart" are alienated by race, language and
culture, yet united by a common need to survive during their adventures
The play is more about a journey of the heart than it is about charting the
It also challenges stereotypes, director Randy Reinholz, Cherokee, said;
such as the presumption that all Indians lived in squalid, sparsely
"It emphasizes that there were more people in the Mandan village than there
were in Washington, D.C.," Reinhoz said. "People think all the Indians were
sleeping in little huts." In reality, the Mandan's homes were large earthen
structures supported by timber frames, he said.
After an initial run at the Wells Fargo Theatre in Los Angeles, "Stone
Heart" will embark on a national tour, beginning with shows in April at the
National Museum of the American Indian in New York City and Washington,
This marks the first time the company has taken a production on the road.
"The plan for the show is to tour," Reinholz said, calling it a milestone.
"Compared to the work we've been doing at Native Voices, it marks a turn
"Stone Heart" is a full Equity production of Native Voices at the Autry, a
theater company that develops new works for the stage by American Indians.
In the past six years it has produced Diane Glancy's "Jump Kiss: An Indian
Legend," Joseph A. Dandurand's "Please Do Not Touch the Indians," Drew
Hayden Taylor's "The Buz'Gem Blues" and Marie Clements' "Urban Tattoo," as
well as staged readings of numerous plays by Native authors. For more
information, visit http://autrynationalcenter.org/nativevoices.php.