NAWPA: The Woman Who Was Captured by Ghosts

NAWPA logo
The Woman Who Was Captured by Ghosts
by Julie Pearson-Little Thunder

The action of the play unfolds in the material world and the mythical land of the traditional Cheyenne story, The Girl Who Was Captured by Ghosts. The play follows Marissa’s diagnosis and treatment for breast cancer, drawing upon the traditional story both as a metaphor for her experiences, and as a way to illuminate suppressed aspects of her life and relationships.

Marissa: Cheyenne woman, early 40’s.
The Grandmother: Cheyenne woman, Marissa’s grandmother, present alternately as a spirit, and as part of Marissa’s childhood memories
Nakwis: Marissa’s son, around 15.
Joyce: white, also in her 40s, Marissa’s co-worker and friend, somewhat overweight.
Paul: white male, Marissa’s ex-husband.
Dr. Patel-Oncologist: East Indian heritage
The Lab Tech, Mamie, the Wig Shop owner, the Ghost Headsman
Setting and Action
Like the action of the play, the set has a dual nature. In Act I, it should be opaque and seemingly solid. Playing spaces include the cold, institutional spaces of a doctor’s office-alternately DR. Shelman’s office where Marissa and Joyce work and that of Dr. Patel-and the front porch of Marissa’s home. Although apparently grounded in material reality, the places in Act I represent a kind of shell world, because they do not allow the characters any contact with spiritual elements. The figure of Marissa’s Grandmother represents one of these spiritual elements. In Act I, she speaks directly to the audience, rather than to Marissa or the other characters, who cannot hear her, although Marissa does occasionally sense her as a kind of disruption in her thoughts.

Act I
The play opens in the reception area of Dr. Shelman’s office. A single patient, an elderly woman seen only from the back, sits in the waiting area. She wears a dark coat and moccasins. The moccasins should not be noticed at first. She begins the scene as Mrs. Gonzalez and will soon change into Marissa’s Grandmother. Where-ever this character moves onstage, she should be followed by an aura of light. Marissa and Joyce, receptionists, are working in the office. They wear doctor’s office dress. Marissa enters with mail. She has long hair. Joyce types something short into the computer and starts the printer.
In Act II, the opaque set that seemed fairly solid reveals its flip side, full of theatrical magic and tricks. Although there are different locations in this act, the basic shift is from traveling through an outdoor environment to the inside of a lodge (tipi) or a circle of lodges and back to traveling. Back lighting reveals eerie figures or suggests landscape elements in places. There may be a trap door. Costumes are mostly primary colors with dark blue, red and yellow, the traditional colors of the Cheyenne, playing an important role in the design. The “Oscar Meyer” approach to costume, i.e., a giant rubberized bucket suit, should be avoided.

Act II
This act opens with Marissa telling the story. A shadow and voice suggest the Headsman Ghost’s presence in this scene. It is important that Marissa begin the scene with her hair pulled back (as though it were short) and the blanket she wore on the porch which covers her nightgown/buckskin. After she goes to lie down in the lodge and awakens again, her hair is long and her dress, traditional. Just as fragments and pieces of the spiritual world break through the surface of the material world in Act I, so fragments and pieces of the real world disrupt the traditional story here and there. Marissa’s vomiting action at the top of this act is one example. Also, in this act, Marissa consistently hears and respond to her Grandmother’s voice. She does not speak to her Grandmother in real time, however, but rather, through her childhood memories.

-Synopsis written by the author.