News and notes from Fredericksburg's entertainment scene
Young Life: The Power Of Pocahantas
BY COLLETTE CAPRARA
FOR THE FREE LANCE–STAR
Pocahontas, the current feature at Riverside Children’s Theater, bears a stirring authenticity that would surprise even the author of the script.
The rapt attention of children and adults in the audience is a testament to the efforts of co-directors Barbara and Mel Cochran, who took every measure to ensure that the production is historically and visually accurate.
This investment was rewarded by the generosity of local representatives of Indian tribes—Patricia “Si Wo Ke” Mills, founder of the Eagles Nest Educational Foundation, Chief Robert “Two Eagles” Green and Don “Flying Eagle” Shelton—who lent their treasured personal artifacts and regalia and gave advice regarding the story and its symbolism.
For example, the robe worn by Chief Powhatan in the play is composed of a thousand turkey feathers and valued at $5,000. It had been given to Chief Green by the director of the acclaimed historical documentary “The New World,” in appreciation for his service as a technical consultant for the film.
“Coming into the show, I could not envision the resources that would be available to us,” said Barbara Cochran. “This production has personally touched my heart.”
Her enthusiasm and commitment is echoed by that of the actors.
“The cast has been amazing and has totally taken in everything that has been given to them,” she said.
That embrace of the spirit of the American Indian culture is evident in the convincing performance by each of the actors.
Doug Wall aptly conveys the strong resolve, depth of heart and regal quality of Chief Powhatan. His granddaughter, Analisa Wall, portrays Pocahontas with moving credibility. Her spi-ritedness as a fun-loving prankster evolves into compassion for the plight of the starving settlers. Randy “R.J.” O’Kelly captures both the courage and tribal loyalty of young Brave Eagle. And Anthony Williams’ powerful portrayal of medicine man Thundercloud is enhanced by his fearsome attire, including a chest plate of bone and silver, authentic face painting, and skull-capped staff.
Choreographer Courtney Cox heightens the characters’ authenticity with detailed attention to their movement, gestures and dance.
As the story unfolds, Pocahontas’ free spirit and open-heartedness bridges all worlds—from her tribal village, to the Jamestown settlement, to the forest that is alive with the animal spirits she communicates with. But the princess’ pleas to her father to open land so the settlers can sustain themselves are rebuffed by Powhatan, who feels he must protect his tribe and preserve its resources.
When Pocahontas slips away for one last visit to the settlement, in the absence of their leader, Capt. John Smith, some of the settlers take her hostage, demanding a ransom of food, hunting rights and seeds. Enraged by their scheme, Powhatan declares war on the settlers. Smith, unarmed yet unafraid, travels to the Indian village to seek peace.
Angered beyond measure, Chief Powhatan orders his execution. The order is stopped mid-action as Pocahontas flings herself between the ax and its intended victim. In that instant, the act is transformed from an execution to an adoption ceremony.
According to tribal fiat, Pocahontas’ willingness to sacrifice herself results in the embrace of the prospective victim as a member of the tribe and the family of his protector: Smith becomes her brother and Chief Powhatan’s son.
The story carries a message that is as crucial today as it was in the times of the Jamestown settlers, which is dramatically relayed through the words of the musical’s songs.
“No Common Ground,” a steadfast rebuff of those of a different culture, is sung at different times by people on both sides of the conflict. In contrast, “Your Heart Always Knows” is sung with heart-stirring emotion by Kimberly McDowell as Spirit of Mother Earth, who urges Pocahontas to never give up and assures her that her “heart is never wrong” and that it “is the window to the truth.”
Perhaps the greatest evidence of the impact of this production is the response of young audience members at a recent performance.
One little girl walked away echoing the singing chant of the Wordspinner. Another, with wide eyes told her friends that she was “so scared of the medicine man that she was shaking” but, undaunted, quickly approached him for his autograph in the meet-and-greet session. A boy who was leaving the theater with his family gave his host a big hug and a “thank you, Grandma,” for an experience he is bound to cherish for a long time.
Where: Riverside Children’s Theater, 95 Riverside Parkway (off Sanford Drive, first traffic light on U.S. 17 north after I-95 intersection)
When: Through Nov. 24. Saturdays: 1 p.m. lunch, 2 p.m. performance. Selected Tuesdays and Thursdays: 10:15 a.m. lunch, 11:30 a.m. performance. (Call for specific performance dates.)
Cost: $18 Saturday matinees (lunch and show); $12 Tuesdays and Thursdays (show only, bring bag lunch).
Info: 540/370-4300; riversidedt.com
Collette Caprara is a local writer and artist.