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Cather’s pioneers rediscovered expertly

Jose Ruiz

Those who joined the Women’s Liberation movement of the 1960s and

1970s might have taken a few tips from Alexandra Bergson, the lead

character in Willa Cather’s “O Pioneers!”, the play based on her

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novel, being produced by A Noise Within.

Alexandra inherits her father’s bleak land in the Midwest, and by

sheer will, determination and imagination, forges it into a

productive oasis that brings her wealth and comfort, albeit at the

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expense of love.

Geoff Elliott and Julia Rodriguez Elliott direct this gem, flowing

with music and rich in drama. Cather’s tale, set in the 1880s,

bristles with ethnic tension, as we find characters talking about the

attitudes of the Bohemians, the Swedes and other groups that had come

to America to find their fortunes.

Human frailties abound, not the least of which is the eternal

conflict between the sexes, where Alexandra struggles to be taken

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seriously in her efforts to advance, because she’s a woman and often

the victim of gossip and calumny.

Lust and adultery are no strangers in the strongly religious

community, as two lovers finally declare their feelings, in spite of

the fact that she is married to another, and eventually their love

brings them face to face with tragedy. Greed and avarice pervade as

even Alexandra’s brothers turn on her when they see her success,

claiming her land belongs to them.

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The musical adaptation by Darrah Cloud, with music by Kim D.

Sherman, literally reverberates on an almost-barren stage that

accentuates the emptiness of the land. When the cast members break

into song, a tingle comes to the back of the neck, as their feelings

become yours. David O’s wonderful keyboarding is beautifully accented

by Liza Liu’s haunting cello, with its melancholy legatos echoing the

farmer’s plight.

Deborah Strang is absolutely superb in the lead role, with Geoff

Elliott as Carl Linstrum, her unfulfilled love, and Robert Pescovitz,

Thomas Patrick Kelly and Christopher Gerson as the brothers. Megan

Goodchild and Gerson play the tragic lovers.


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