Lexington Children’s Theatre has a long history of ... history. From “Hannah’s Suitcase” to “The Red Badge of Courage” to the current production of “Sacagawea: Discovering History,” LCT’s history-centric offerings center on one important thing that grownups often forget: Children and young people are making history themselves.
That lesson is lost on contemporary teenager Jane, the play’s protagonist, who whines about going on a family vacation out West and would rather spend time on her cellphone. Despite her initial determination to be too cool for her family vacation, she begins to be drawn into the story of Sacagawea, eventually “becoming” her in her imagination. She also imagines that her father and uncle are Lewis and Clark as the story-within-a-story unfolds.
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Jane begins to see that history is alive all around her, and that while Lewis and Clark might have dazzled Thomas Jefferson and the Western world with their epic exploration of America’s western expanse, but none of their “discoveries” would have been possible without the help of a teenage mother.
As Jane’s family vacation unfolds, she learns that Sacagawea shared her knowledge of game and roots to keep them from starving to death; that her translation and cultural knowledge allowed for peaceful passage and relationships among local tribes; that she traded her beaded belt for the fur robes that would be presented to Thomas Jefferson as a gift; and that she saved journals, maps and important paperwork from going overboard while sailing in a storm. And that she did it all while nursing a baby.
She’s saying that she deserves notoriety and credit for everything she’s done, and I think that’s really the point of the show.
Actor Alex Reeves
Alex Reeves, who plays both Jane and Sacagawea, says that although her two characters are wildly different — and not just because of the centuries that separate them — it’s what they have in common that she focused on.
“It was more about how are these two characters the same,” Reeves says. “How are they similar? I like to relate the fact that they both don’t have very many options.”
“Being a 14-year-old can feel really stifling,” she says. “You are at the mercy of your parents and you feel like you’re growing and you want to make your own decisions, but you’re still stuck. The journey really becomes about whether Jane’s dad let her branch out and start making her own decisions, while at the same time, Clark and Lewis start to respect Sacagawea and appreciate the things she can bring to the expedition.”
Director Octavia Biggs says this play has a special appeal.
“I enjoy doing shows that are historically correct and offer something special to young people, and I felt like this story was especially interesting because of Sacagawea being a young girl,” Biggs says.
The value and role of girls in history takes the spotlight in the play’s closing moments.
“There’s this ending monologue that she (Jane) gives where she’s teaching her brother and even her dad and her uncle what Sacagawea really meant to this expedition,” Reeves says. “She’s saying that she deserves notoriety and credit for everything she’s done, and I think that’s really the point of the show: to question history for what has been given to you at face value.”
Candace Chaney is a Lexington-based writer and critic.