Venus de Milo, at the Louvre
Venus de Milo, at the Louvre

Usually, with such projects, it’s customary to acknowledge, once the script is done, those who lend their talents, insights and wisdom. I feel compelled to lead with gratitude. As the work develops, this list will surely grow:

THANK YOU

For artistic and technical assistance, William S. Yellow Robe, Jr., brilliant playwright – master of magical realism – and generous resource.

For research assistance,  Lianna Elizabeta Costantino and, via her website, Otis Amanda Dick – Mandy the Storyteller (whose celebrated, one-woman Elizabeth English Pennington living history performance is one of her myriad historical characters).

For telling me about Elizabeth “Grandma Betsy” English Pennington and suggesting she might be someone I’d want to write about, Sandra Sieg (who is a descendent of Grandma Betsy, as is Otis Amanda Dick).

For his generous contributions, insights and feedback and for being my dramaturg on this project, theatre maestro par excellence, Gary Wright.

For their artistic GENIUS reflections, Jeremy Cole and Marcus Paul Wolland.

ABOUT THE PROJECT

de Milo brings forward the character of Elizabeth English Pennington (1783-1757). In the play, the main character, Helen, is on leave from work while recovering from breast cancer. She sits alone in her kitchen contemplating suicide in the face of a mountain of medical bills and increasing feelings of alienation. As Helen struggles in liminal space, Pennington steps out of the ethers and challenges Helen to suspend her plans and embark on an adventure. Helen reluctantly agrees, and what follows is a dynamic weaving of primitive American history and the complexities of 21st century socio-political life.

The Cherokee warrior, Robert “Bob” Benge, killed her father and abducted Elizabeth “Betsy” English Pennington in 1787, when she was four years old. Two years later, Benge sold Betsy to an “old Cherokee chief” and his wife, a medicine woman. When her brother “rescued her,” in 1797, Betsy didn’t want to return to her surviving anglo family. Although she did return, Betsy never forgot or stopped missing her “Indian family.” In 1800, Betsy married Dennis Pennington, a prominent Indiana statesman and the founder of the first American public school. Originally planned for children of landowners, it was Betsy who insisted that all Indiana children be included. In addition to their concerns about education and civil infrastructure, Dennis and Betsy were devoted abolitionists.

In de Milo, Betsy introduces Helen to the Cherokee woman (“Just call me Elisi”) who adopted her as a child. Along the way, Elisi explains to Helen the agonizing process of recovering from being scalped, as was a member of her close family. Helen finds herself identifying, in her fresh recovery from a radical double mastectomy, with those who suffered severe “disfigurement” at the mercy of a deadly enemy – simultaneously humiliation and a badge of grit.

de Milo dances between devastating drama and dark comedy. Produced by Universal Access Productions, the development of this project is supported, in part, by the Living History Centre Fund, Sacramento California.

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