“The Legend of White Woman Creek” sings of a woman whose life was a tragedy of loss and limitations. The experiences by many pioneer women are not often recognized by history. This is the story of Anna Morgan Faber, a Kansan pioneer, who went West, and found open prairies and narrow minds waiting for her. The play interestingly creates a legend around this woman, who is made remarkable by her experiences.
The play expresses her emotions in an honest and authentic manner through song. This method of telling the story through song seems to be the only method of telling the story that would do justice to it.
Anna moved to the west looking for opportunity or freedom like so many other women in her time, only to find, “the man makes the decisions.” Her trials and tribulations are extreme, from the excruciating household drudgery of living isolated with a man that hardly loves her to being kidnapped by Indians. Her story is hardly the average captivity tale though.
This show is mostly sung in folk/ southern rock style, with only short speaking interludes at the beginning and in between certain songs. However, this is far from a concert. There is a distinct narrative thread woven consistently into the songs. Rarely does the audience lose track of the story’s movement. Only in some of the more plaintive, introspective songs, some of the lyrics get lost in the emotion being expressed.
The one woman show is held together by the remarkable presence and vocals of Katie Hartman, a member of the Coldharts, a Brooklyn based theatre group. Hartman, however hails from the Kansas City area and obviously is inspired by her Midwestern roots.
The opening song “Go West” shows a moment where women were called to action, being told it was their duty to settle the west and “redeem our broken union,” which is still sore from the long civil war. Later the refrain is repeated in another song with ironic and brutal weight. The music often repeats in a cyclical way returning to previous songs in way so subtle it feels fluid rather than repetitive.
The play is not afraid to commit to down home folk lyrics such as “We’ll plant apples, almonds, and apricots, and generosity,” juxtaposed with other more serious, dark takes on folk songs and gospel hymnals. The lyrics are insightful and simple. Certain lines stick with the audience and speak to a reality that is easily recognizable in modern day, though the character lived over 100 years ago.
“The Legend of White Woman Creek,” kept its set simple to great effect, its semicircle of votive candles beautifully framed the action while also creating dynamic lighting moments throughout the show. The clever framing device is an intellectual ghost chaser summoning the spirit of Anna Morgan Faber, the white woman of the title. This device compliments the story rather than overshadowing it.
This work is comprised of a series of haunting, soulful and powerful story songs, harkening back to an older tradition of songwriting, without dating itself. Harmon’s expressive voice is alternately powerfully straightforward and softly suggestive. The show is a unique and alternative experience that should be taken advantage of in its short run.
“The Legend of White Woman Creek” will play at the Fishtank theatre on Thursday July 25 at 7:30 and Saturday July 27 at 10:30. For more information, visit kcfringe.org
Image Credit: Mark Ryan at the 2012 Twin Cities Horror Festival