October 24, 2014

Theater Review: “Not One More Foot of Land” Triumphs at the Secret Rose Theatre

 

PHOTO BY KIRISTINA LLLOYD

Theater Review: “Not One More Foot of Land” Triumphs at the Secret Rose Theatre

From left, Cynthia Bryant, Joseph Runningfox as Major Ridge and Ayanery Reyes in "Not One More Foot of Land," at the Secret Rose Theater in North Hollywood.

Anyone interested in Native American History will be engrossed by Al Shulman’s fascinating and well-researched play “Not One More Foot of Land” at the Secret Rose Theatre in NoHo.

Beautifully directed by Kristina Lloyd, the historical epic recounts 50 years in the life of Cherokee leader Major Ridge, who is primarily known for signing the Treaty of New Echota in 1835 that led to the tragic “Trail of Tears.”

Before that tragic period of his life, however, Major Ridge (played by Joseph Runningfox) was one of the most prominent leaders of the Cherokee nation who fought alongside Andrew Jackson in the War of 1812 and later became a prominent politician.

Born in the early 1770s in Tennessee, Ridge was brought up as a hunter and warrior, resisting white encroachment on Cherokee lands.

In the early 1790s he married a fellow Cherokee and they moved to what is now Bartow County, Georgia, having been provided with farming equipment as part of President George Washington's “civilization” policy for Native Americans.

Yet the Cherokees were shocked when the U.S. Congress passed the Indian Removal Bill of 1830 and Georgia began to dispense Cherokee lands shortly thereafter.

As Georgians began to move illegally into the Cherokees’ houses and take over their land and businesses, Ridge became convinced that either warfare or negotiation with the U.S. government must proceed.

He and a minority of Cherokees signed the Treaty of New Echota in December 1835 without authorization from the Cherokee government. The illegal treaty was then signed by President Jackson and passed by one vote in the U.S. Senate.

While the Ridge family and others voluntarily moved to what is now Oklahoma, Cherokee removal was forced by the military and due to harsh weather conditions, more than 4,000 Cherokees died during the 1838-39 winter on the “trail where they cried.”

On June 22, 1839, in retaliation for Ridge’s part in this tragedy, Ridge was ambushed and killed. His assailants were never officially identified or prosecuted.

There are many notable performances within the large Native American cast; chief among them of course is Runningfox (a Pueblo) who plays the key role of Major Ridge.

Runningfox is best known for an NBC Movie of the Week “Ishi; The Last of his Tribe.”

Balancing Runningfox’s high-energy performance is the sweet and gentle Donell Morgan (Blackfeet- Assiniboine) who plays Ridge’s wise and loyal wife, Sehoya.

Randy Vasquez plays John Ridge, their Eastern college-educated son beautifully and provides much of the greatest conflict at the end.

Another fabulous performance comes from Brían Wescott (Athabascan) who plays John Ross, a Cherokee who became Ridge’s main political rival.

Overall, this is a high-energy epic and one of the most amazing historical theatrical productions I have seen in a long time, incorporating authentic Cherokee dress, dancing and traditional music.

In fact, it is a great way to introduce kids to some incredible, relevant yet tragic episodes in American history.

The Secret Rose Theatre is easy to find on Magnolia, with abundant street parking and many fine restaurants just two blocks east on Lankershim.

“Not One More Foot of Land,” by Art Shulman, Feb. 10 - April 1, 2012. Fridays & Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Admission: $22; Seniors: $17; Students: $10. Tickets/reservations at www.secretrose.com or (818) 782-4254. Parking: Metered parking to 6 p.m., free street parking (please read all signage) Running Time: 110 minutes. Secret Rose Theatre, 11246 Magnolia Boulevard, North Hollywood, 91601