Buffalo Spree Magazine featured the subject of Savage Arts, the Marchand “Witch Murder Trial” as part of its December 2008 article on famous scandals in Western New York history.
Savage Arts at the Marsh; Stunning Sensual Awakening
by Linda Ayres-Frederick
“A true artist has no shame,” says French painter Henri enticingly as he beds his neighbor’s wife, Margaret in Sharon Eberhardt’s Savage Arts. Based on a true story of an Indian witchcraft trial that took place in upstate New York in the 1930’s, this solo performance is a volatile mix of sexual longing, opposing cultures, criminality, and prejudice. In her quiet but audibly calm voice, Eberhardt takes on the personae of several distinct characters that people her story using a minimum of props — a simple apron and a single chair — with the addition of one shaft of light coming from the artistst’s studio that indicates his haunting presence.
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Based on an actual “Indian Witchcraft Trial” in 1930 Buffalo, NY. A naive housewife enters a world of art, passion and Iroquois tribal lore when a French artist moves next door. His paintings of Seneca Indians lead to a brutal crime.
Performances: January 18 – February 16, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm. Tickets $15-35, sliding scale, available at www.themarsh.org, or 1(800) 838-3006. The Marsh, 1062 Valencia Street @ 22nd San Francisco, CA 94110. Info on local restaurants, transportation and parking.
Savage Arts was originally developed at The Marsh, a breeding ground for new performance, as part of the Performance Initiative, directed by David Ford. It was presented at Emerging Artists One Woman Standing Festival, April, 2007.
The Theater: ‘Savage Arts” at the Marsh
By Ken Bullock, Special to The Planet 2008-02-15
Savage Arts, a solo piece written and performed by Berkeley playwright Sharon Eberhardt, which concerns an actual murder and trial that focused on witchcraft and Native American beliefs in 1930 Buffalo, N.Y., will have its final performances 8 p.m. tonight (Friday) and tomorrow night (Saturday) at The Marsh in San Francisco’s Mission District.
“Two Seneca women were accused of murdering a Frenchwoman whom they thought was a witch,” said Eberhardt. “The murdered woman’s husband was an artist from France who was painting dioramas in science museums on the East Coast. I felt foreign to the main characters and was concerned about how images, particularly of Native Americans, get manipulated, so I play a blue-collar neighbor, keeping her point of view, going back over the story, the information as she learns it. And things become more and more convoluted the more she finds out. It becomes a transforming experience for her; her impressions and prejudices change. I also become the other characters as it goes along.”
The trial was recorded in the local papers every day, earning a story in Time magazine. The Bureau of Indian Affairs even appealed to Herbert Hoover’s Vice President Charles Curtis (himself part Native American) to send U.S. district attorneys to investigate, but “the federal government backed off when the New York prosecutors objected.”
It was a time when “the Native Americans in that part of the country had ongoing direct contact with Europeans since the late 1600s. The reservations were established right after the Civil War; they seemed pretty deracinated by the 20th century. I think it was something of a shock to discover that some were still practicing their religion by the time of the 1930s. There were about a thousand Seneca speakers. It seemed to be a dying culture.”
Eberhardt was also concerned with the impression mainstream American society had—and has—of Native Americans.
“We know how to drive a car, but maybe not how to hunt,” she said. “With industrialization, society started romanticizing, revaluing what were thought to be Native American secrets. The Boy Scouts learned Native American tracking; the Campfire Girls, weaving. There was a sense, too, of primitive sensuality, passions we can’t feel every day—and that we can tap into those primitive passions. In the play, it comes up how we use these ideas, and plays with all this—the narrator, following the trial, is amazed by the passions.”
Eberhardt—whose one-acts have won awards and whose full-length Becca and Heidi, a female twist on the Jekyll-Hyde story was produced by The Shee Theatre Co. in San Francisco a few years back, commented on performing her own work.
“Stephanie Weissman, The Marsh’s founder, knew of my plays and that they’d gotten good reviews, and got me involved,” she said. “People responded to the characters in the workshops I went to. I worked in a class with David Ford. I used to be amazed at what actors did with the things I wrote. Now I realize I unconsciously knew more when I wrote my plays; I have to act them to know what they’re about.”
There are plans for the future for Savage Arts.
“We’ve approached a small theater in Santa Rosa about putting it on,” said Eberhardt, “and in the fall, I’m working to take it to Buffalo, have a workshop in a school there—and connect with the Seneca community. I look forward to developing the characters. maybe write some new scenes.”
Eberhardt, who’s from Buffalo, has an M.F.A. in playwriting from Columbia. Her husband, Perrin Meyer, introduced her to his friend, Malcolm Margolin, author of The Ohlone Way.
“Buffalo was a declining industrial area when I grew up there,” she said. “Then I lived in New York for years. It took awhile when I came here to appreciate living in beauty. But I’d never move to Florida! In the Bay Area, it’s not just beauty, but how we’re encouraged to go beyond tribalism, group prejudices … There’s more of that on the East Coast. It’s something in the play—I’m encouraged that we’ve gotten a little bit better in some areas. I hope we can move on.”
Through Feb. 16 at The Marsh,
1062 Valencia St., San Francisco.
*Savage Arts Marsh, 1062 Valencia, upstairs studio; 826-5750, 1-800-838-3006, www.themarsh.org. $15-35, sliding scale. Fri-Sat, 8pm. Through Feb 16. Love. Lust. Murder. Art. Lies. Xenophobia. An apron and a chair. These are the themes and sole props in Sharon Eberhardt’s original play, in which an out-of-love housewife and her dying husband become entangled in the brutal intrigue surrounding the unsolved murder of a new neighbor. Brilliantly written and earnestly acted, Savage Arts brings to life a true-crime drama with real newspaper quotes, stories, and characters based on key players in the infamous 1930 trial of Lila Jimerson, or “Red Lila,” the woman accused of murdering the wife of a French artist in Buffalo, NY. The story is told from the point of view of Margaret, an emotionally volatile witness, who goes from loyal, doting wife to fierce, revitalized adulteress to insecure, self-deprecating room pacer in a matter of 80 minutes. It is quite a sight to behold. An earlier form of this one-woman tour de force was initially developed and staged at the Marsh’s Festival of New Voices, and now Eberhardt is back where it all started. Directed by artist in residence David Ford at the intimate Upstairs Studio Theater, this production is not for audiences who are afraid of direct eye contact or strange women unbuttoning their blouses in public. The audience sees everything, including a whole handful of characters, through Margaret’s eyes, and she is not as puritanical as she first seems. (Amy Glasenapp)
You Can Radiate, a ten-minute play originally written for Playground, San Francisco, is being performed as part of the Apprentice Ten-Minute Play Festival at Actor’s Theatre of Louisville January 13, 2008. Directed by Kathy B. Ellis, is has a cast of excited actors, and designers who have worked long and hard to make a young woman “glow.”Let me know if you see the show!
My short one-act play, Last Days of Communism, ran in The Artistic Home’s Cut to the Chase series. Woo Hoo! http://www.theartistichome.org/stage/cut_to_the_chase.html
Becca & Heidi, a comic inversion of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, in which a woman wonders if having an alter ego can have its benefits, is having its New York premiere, featuring Lindsay Anderson, who created the role in San Francisco. Directed by Blake Lawrence, presented by Collective P.A.S.T. at chashama (217 E 42nd St, ny,ny) August 12-22, 2007, Sundays through Wednedays, 8 pm. Tickets available online at: http://www.ticketweb.com
Becca & Heidi was originally produced by The Shee Theatre Company at The Exit Theatre, San Francisco, July 2004, directed by Virginia Reed. It was also produced by The Alleyway Theater/ Pandora’s Box, Buffalo, NY.
“A witty, modern-day take on the Jekyll-and-Hyde theme.”
(Anna Mantzaris, SF Gate)
“A delightful twist on the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde tale, but instead of a battle of good and evil, Becca finds herself in a much more captivating battle with her twin. It is an astonishing work of imagination.” (Pat Craig, Contra Costa Times)
“What Eberhadt has done is effectively molded a woman whose mental state of disarray can be read as a metaphor for everyone’s occasional bouts with delirium. We have been there; that’s why Becca’s temporary insanity is so funny, so real.”
(Ben Siegel, Buffalo News)
A naive housewife enters a world of art, passion, and Iroquois tribal lore when a French artist moves next door. His paintings of local Seneca Indians lead to a brutal crime. Based on the true story of the 1930 “Indian Witchcraft Trial” in Buffalo, NY.Savage Arts was originally developed at The Marsh, a breeding ground for new performance, as part of the Performance Initiative, directed by David Ford. It was presented at Emerging Artists One Woman Standing Festival, April, 2007. Audience reviews from the 2007 London, Ontario Fringe Festival
Performances:London, Ontario Fringe Festival July 27-August 6, 2007 (www.londonfringe.ca).Showtimes: Sat July 28, 7:00 pm, Sun July 29, 2:00 pm, Tue July 31, 8:00 pm, Thurs Aug 2, 6:15 pm, Sat Aug 4, 3:45 pm, Sun Aug 5, 7:30 pm.Venue 4, Fanshawe College Theatre Galleria, King and Clarence St.; S.E. corner.Regina, Saskatchewan Fringe Festival July 10-16, 2007 (www.reginafringe.com) Showtimes: Tuesday, July 10, 8:30 pm, Wednesday, July 11 2:45 pm, Thursday, July 12, 5 pm, Friday, July 13, 6:45 pm, Saturday, July 14, 8:30 pm, Sunday, July 15, 2:45 pm.Venue: Westminster United Church 13th Ave & Cameron St.