CEDARS to Feature Texts by Ten Native American Writers at La MaMa, 1/22-2/1

By: Dec. 19, 2014

Mirage Theatre Company is making its La MaMa debut with "Cedars," a theatrical adaptation of Native American poetry and prose performed by Native American actors, directed by June Prager.

Through the poetic voices of contemporary Native American writers, the play gives a 21st century face to the struggles of indigenous people, depicting their adaptation into modern-day society and celebrating Native American culture and enduring spirit. Participating writers include Arthur Tulee (Yakama), Tiffany Midge (Hunkpapa Sioux), Gail Tremblay (Onondaga/M'kmaq), Deborah A. Miranda (Ohlone-Costanoan Esselen), Alex Jacobs (Akwesasne Mohawk), William Michael Paul (Hunkpapa Sioux), Joseph Bruchac (Abenaki), Martha Brice (Tlingit), Molly McGlennen (Anishinaabe), and Evan Pritchard (M'kmaq).

La MaMa will present the work, in association with Mirage Theatre Company, January 22 to February 1 in La MaMa's First Floor Theater, 74A East Fourth Street (East Village).

Conceived and adapted for the stage and directed by June Prager, the play is a collage of poetry and prose texts, masks, drumming, and music, performed by five Native American actors. The piece features powerful contemporary literary voices and themes that can foster intercultural understanding. Original music for the production has been composed by Charles Upham (Blackfeet).

"Cedars" debuted in Seattle, produced by Red Eagle Soaring Native Theatre Group in 2002. The production contains the text of that show, but it has been revised with additional text, music and movement design. In preparation for this production, Mirage Theatre Company held readings of "Cedars" at the Living Theater and La MaMa last February, preceded by a two-week residency at Vassar College. Following this run, "Cedars" will be available for touring nationally to educational institutions, community organizations, regional theaters and tribal communities.

Director June Prager explains the origin of the play, writing "When living in Seattle, I visited a Native American bookstore. Browsing through books of poetry and prose, I was amazed by the beauty and power of the language. I came to this country at the age of ten following WWII, confronted by a new language and a culture that in so many ways was very foreign to me. When I discovered these Native American writers, I connected with their feeling of being an outsider but unlike my experiences, they felt like strangers in their own land, struggling to maintain a cultural heritage in a country that has broken promises and offered so little hope for generations."

There was a poster for Red Eagle Soaring Native Theatre Group (RES) on the bookstore wall, so Prager contacted them, suggesting that some of this Native American literature could be adapted for the stage. RES invited Prager to do just that and the "Cedars" project was born. Through RES, Prager was personally introduced to Native American poets in the Seattle area whose writings were selected for the play. These include Arthur Tulee (Yakama), Tiffany Midge (Hunkpapa Sioux), Gail Tremblay (Onondaga/M'kmaq), Deborah A. Miranda (Ohlone-Costanoan Esselen), Alex Jacobs (Akwesasne Mohawk), William Michael Paul (Hunkpapa Sioux) and Martha Brice (Tlingit). Subsequently working in New York, she added the East Coast writers Joseph Bruchac (Abenaki), Molly McGlennen (Anishinaabe) and Evan Pritchard (M'kmaq).

In response to the isolating effects of racism towards Native Americans, poetry and prose writers on reservations and in cities are eager for their voices to be heard. The play depicts Native Americans living in two worlds - struggling to preserve traditional Native values within the context of an ever changing modern society. The writers also reflect a spirit of hope that has been growing in both urban and reservation Native communities, where a burgeoning community of literary artists are reflecting these changes in their work. Biographies of the poets represented in the production can be found at www.jsnyc.com/season/poets_cedars.htm. Prager believes that while the poetry and prose comprising this play is rooted in Native experience, it resonates with universal themes that can stimulate mutual understanding and illustrate our common humanity.

The play features actors Wolfen de Kastro (Aztec/Huastec/Maya), Joan Henry (Cherokee/Apache/Arawak), John Scott Richardson (Haliwa-Saponi/Tuscarora), Alana LaMalice (Dene/Cree) and Keith Taylor (Choctaw).

Lighting Design is by Ellie Engstrom. Mask Design is by Roger Fernandes (Lower Elwha s'Klallam). Music is composed by Roger Upham (Blackfeet).

January 22 to February 1, 2015
La MaMa E.T.C. (First Floor Theater), 74A East Fourth Street
Presented by La MaMa E.T.C. in association with Mirage Theatre Company
Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 PM, Sundays at 2:00 PM
$18 general admission. Student and Senior tickets are $13.00. Ten $10 tickets will be available to every performance on a first-come, first-served basis.
Box office: www.lamama.org, 646-430-5374
Runs 1:20. Critics are invited to all performances.

June Prager (Director) became Artistic Director of Mirage Theater Company in 2010. She has directed numerous Off Broadway and other New York productions for the Manhattan Theatre Club, Roundabout Theatre, Ensemble Studio Theatre, and Mirage Theatre Company. Some of her stage credits include "Image and Likeness" with Sam Waterston, "Winter Visitor" with Beatrice Straight and Lee Richardson, "The Tender Branch" with Nancy Franklin and Larry Keith, "The Hold Out" with John Seitz, and "Christopher Blake" with Maria Tucci. In Philadelphia, as Producing Artistic Director of Theatre International Exchange, Ms. Prager directed an international repertory of plays, as well as productions at Temple University Theatre, the Walnut Street Theatre, and the Hedgerow Theatre.

Mirage Theatre Company (www.miragetheatrecompany.org) was founded in 1988 by Miranda d'Ancona and Doris Kaufman in residence at the Perry Street Theater, where it mounted socially-conscious plays including "Big, Fat and Ugly with a Mustache" by Christopher Widney, "The Goat" by Ben Morse and "The Dropper" by actor Ron McClarty. Other productions included Noel Coward's "Suite in Two Keys" starring Hayley Mills at the Lucille Lortel Theatre and "The Flashing Stream" by Charles Morgan at Theatre Three. When June Prager assumed leadership of Mirage Theatre Company in 2010, the company's mission was refocused onto plays of social justice. "Distant Survivors," based on several volumes of Holocaust poetry by William Heyen, adapted and directed by June Prager, has been produced and is now touring the Mid-Hudson Valley with plans for national touring. The company is also developing "Broken Dolls," a dramatic fiction based on factual accounts of women who were victims of wartime rape and human trafficking.

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