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Theatre and Interpretation Center to Present Arthur Kopit's 'Indians'

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November 5, 2008 | by Judy Moore
EVANSTON, Ill. --- A Tony Award-winning play by Arthur Kopit that depicts the life of master showman "Buffalo Bill" Cody is the second 2008-09 season production of the Theatre and Interpretation Center (TIC) at Northwestern University.

Performances of Kopit's "Indians" will be presented at 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 14; 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 15; 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 16; 8 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 20; 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 21; 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 22; and 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 23, in the Ethel M. Barber Theater, 30 Arts Circle Drive, on the University's Evanston campus.

Told from the perspective of the American cowboy as well as the Native American point of view, "Indians" is a captivating and analogous tale of Cody's ego, ambition and desire as he makes his comeback in a ghost town -- all the while aware that his so-called heroism is having destructive effects. The 95-minute, intermission-free production is a combination of Old West mythology, circus spectacle and Native American ritual.

The play spans a time period from the 1860s to 1910 and focuses on both the golden years -- and the death -- of the Old West, featuring bawdy comedy and humorous tall tales told with an exaggerated accent and political fire. It will be directed by Shade Murray, a third-year student in the Northwestern University School of Communication's MFA program. Murray has previously directed productions at Writers' Theatre in Glencoe and Chicago's Strawdog, Shattered Globe and About Face theatre companies, as well as productions at the Museum of Contemporary Art and for Second City.

"'Indians' is an American epic that will appeal to anyone interested in United States history and politics," said Murray. "The show's theme is about the survival of nations. It is a strong piece on American identity and how one individual can affect and change how the entire world perceives America."

Cody (1846-1917), who was born in what is now the state of Iowa, was a (1872) Medal of Honor-winning American soldier and bison hunter, and successful self-promoter who became one of the most colorful figures of America's Old West. The Wild West shows he organized were staged around the world. Cody and his cast members recreated the Pony Express, Little Big Horn and the Sioux Nation in stadiums the size of a football field. His extravaganzas were the precursors to today's American rodeos.

Twelve Northwestern undergraduate student cast members will each play multiple roles because Kopit's play calls for a total of 45 characters to appear on stage. During auditions, Murray selected students who were trained and experienced in dance, acrobatics and precision marching, so they could bring those talents to the Barber Theater stage.

The show's costumes, stage sets and lighting were designed and constructed on the University's Evanston campus by a production team of students in the School of Communication's MFA program. The body-adapting costumes are designed to fit both men and women of varying sizes since many of the roles are interchangeable.

The production's stage sets begin with a tranquil prairie vista with a huge panoramic sky. However, as the show continues, the stage transforms into the "artificial" world of Cody's version of the Wild West, with the addition of artificial lighting, giant-size publicity posters and other "show biz magic." In sharp contrast to Cody's "false" world, the natural beauty of the Sioux Indians, and their chants, dances and rituals are also highlighted.

Live chants and drumming will accompany scenes of Native American rituals and songs in the show include recordings of music used in Cody's traveling Wild West shows.

"Indians" is best-suited for teen-agers and adults. Single tickets are $25 for the general public; $23 for seniors 65 and older, Northwestern staff and faculty and area teachers and administrators; and $10 for full-time students. Tickets are available through the Theatre and Interpretation Center Box Office at (847) 491-7282 or www.tic.northwestern.edu.

Click here to view interviews with the lead cast members and the show's director.