By John Farrell
Not One More Foot of Land is not a great play. It is too long, too leisurely and in the premier production by Secret Rose Theatre, there are a lot of things to argue with.
But it is an important play nonetheless and if it tells its story more in the manner of a straightforward screenplay than a play, if the costumes are all over the map (and they are) and if — at nearly three hours — it needs trimming, you still need to see it. It tells the story of a very important piece of Native American history from the point of view of a man whose actions are still controversial 170 years later, a man who lived in a very different era of Native American affairs and was ultimately assassinated for his controversial decision.
That man is Major Ridge, The Ridge, or Nunnehidihi, a leader of the Cherokees who, after many years of opposing the attempts to appropriate Cherokee lands in Georgia, agreed to the relocation of the Cherokees to Oklahoma, a relocation that led directly to the “Trail of Tears,” where thousands of indigenous people died on the way to their new tribal lands. That controversy is a large part of the play. Playwright, Art Shulman, seems to be on Ridge’s side in the conflict, which involved presidents, the Supreme Court and contention that hasn’t died. The Cherokee are one of the most successful tribes now, and that may be because Ridge led them to Oklahoma. Or perhaps he should have continued the political fight. You’ll have to decide.
Joseph Runningfox, a Native American from the Pueblo Indians of New Mexico, portrays Ridge as a young lover, as a leader of his people and as a man who finally changes his mind when he sees inevitable fate of the Cherokee. He is always convincing, always showing a dignity and a conviction of righteousness in the face of the political complications that face his people as white settlers force them from their ancestral homeland.
His wife, Sehoya Donell Morgan, is an anchor to his political problems, a lover with whom he can talk to about his decisions and his conflicts. Theirs is an enduring love that inflects the play’s most passionate parts.
Unfortunately, despite the best endeavors of the talented director Kristina Taylor, the play has to explain too much about the early history of the United States, about courtrooms and backrooms, and even then, leaves much of the complex story to later research. We never really find out how successful, how middle class Ridge was (he owned 30 slaves and had a large plantation), or about the other tribes involved in the Trail of Tears.
Still, the story matters and the play serves as a tutorial, as a piece of history long ignored, and as a show case for Runningfox’s remarkable acting. You won’t come away from this play with your curiosity satisfied; you won’t have a Running with Wolves experience, but you will want to know more about this extraordinary period in American history, long before the cowboys and Indians were invented.
Tickets are $22, $17 for seniors and $10 for students with identification. Show times are at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and at 2 p.m. Sundays, through April 1.
Details: (818) 782-4254; www.secretrose.com
Venue: Secret Rose Theatre
Location: 11246 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood