If you are a viewer of the video series of Longmire and Yellowstone, then actor Kenneth Ruthardt should be very familiar to you. Ruthardt, at 6’4″, is the world’s tallest Apache. This Mescalero Apache only discovered acting seven years ago, but since then has been involved in 15 plays, nine TV shows, and four movies.
Currently, Ruthardt is on-stage in Olympia at the Harlequin Theatre. He plays two roles in the production: one as a historical figure and one as a grandfather, Roger Ridge Polson. In one scene he is paired with Avery Clark as Andrew Jackson, while Ruthardt plays Major Ridge in the historical drama Sovereignty. The depicts the Cherokee Nation’s deeply intertwined past and present. The basis of the play is the shame of violence, murder and disappearance of Native women.
The Sovereignty playwright is Mary Kathryn Nagle. The Harlequin program points out that Nagle is one of the leading lawyers in the United States advocating for tribal sovereignty – and also one of the country’s most-produced Native playwrights. The play flashes back and forth between present day and two hundred years in the past.
The first act was difficult to understand in what was going on. We could only make out some of the dialog. During the twenty minute intermission, we left the upper row seats and took two seats only a few feet from the stage. When another couple returned from the break and sat behind us, I overheard the husband mention that it was hard to hear what was being said. He wasn’t talking to me, but I nodded, anyway. He also made the comment “Now, I see why Donald Trump loved Andrew Jackson.” This was not a compliment to either Jackson, or Trump.
The second act from our new seats was fantastic. Present day characters blended with characters of the past and we could feel the story reeling us in. Josephine Keefe as Sara Ridge Polson gave an outstanding performance as a young mother as well as an attorney defending her position of the past and future of The Cherokee People. Keefe is from Spokane and a Nez Perce tribal member. She has an MFA from the UCLA School of Theatre, Film, and Television.
Kudos to whoever choreographed the fight scenes. Nice job by Avery Clark, Lance Claymore, Nathan Rice, and Josephine Keefe.
Tommer Peterson did a great job with the scenic design. His simple set easily changed between scenes. Raphael Regan also did a nice job with costume design involving present day and everyday styles from two centuries ago.
The resident lighting designer Olivia Burlingame helped set the mood with differences in time and action.
Watch two interviews about the production here – harlequinproductions.org/2022/05/06/sovereignty-two-interviews-with-the-cast-and-director/
Sovereignty is a complex, provocative historical drama shining a light on the Cherokee Nation’s deeply intertwined past and present. Performed by an ensemble of Native and non-Native local and regional actors with direction, set, costume, and lighting design by Native artists.
The Harlequin program for Sovereignty was a treasure in itself. There was a section of Artist’s Native Affiliations with excellent information about various tribal groups from the Cowlitz Indian Tribe to the Yaqui/Yoeme. There was also a glossary about historical people, details, individuals, and tribal jurisdiction.
Also in the program was an ad for the Squaxin Island Museum Library and Research Center (150 SE Kwuh, Altxw Kamilche, WA 98584) where there is a Sovereignty Exhibition for the month of May – squaxinislandmuseum.org/
Sovereignty by Mary Kathryn Nagle runs May 6 – 28, 2022. – harlequinproductions.org/