By Kerry Lengel
A rather different vision is expounded in "Fred and Mary: An Unconventional Romance," a new historical drama by Arizona playwright Micki Shelton. It premiered Saturday, July 7, at the newly renovated Elks Opera House in Prescott.
A character study bordering on hagiography, "Fred and Mary" is about Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter, who spent the first half of the 20th century working as an architect and designer for the Harvey Company, which brought fine dining to the Wild West at its famed Harvey Houses. A notorious perfectionist, Colter followed a philosophy of "invented authenticity" in her Southwestern designs for landmark buildings such as La Posada Hotel in Winslow and a series of tourist stops on the south rim of the Grand Canyon, including the Hopi House and the Desert View Watchtower, a 70-foot faux ruin with a hidden steel framework.
In all her work, she aimed to honor the culture and the artistry of the Southwest's Native tribes. It was a passion she shared with company founder Fred Harvey, who died in 1901, the same year Colter got her first design commission from his heirs. History says the two never met, but in this play they do, because, as narrator "Old Mary" (Gail Mangham) puts it, "I've always invented histories for my buildings, so why not tell my story however I want?"
Onstage, the only character who is Mary's equal in talent and ambition is the imaginary Fred (Jonathan Perpich), but rather than challenging her in any way, and despite the "romance" promised in the title, he is more of a kindly father figure.
Fred and Mary: An Unconventional Romance opens this weekend
Play focusing on architect Mary Colter and artist Fred Kabotie runs July 6-8 and 13-15 at the historic Elks Opera House in Prescott
By David Yankus
Hopi artist and painter Filmer Kewanyama steps into acting for the first time to play Fred Kabotie, a Native artist who worked with Mary Colter on the Watchtower. Working with Kabotie and other Native artists, Colter recognized the Southwest's first people by introducing indigenous themes in her designs. Visitors to the Watchtower today continue to be awed by Kabotie's extensive wall paintings and remarkable sand painting, which dominates the central floor.
After arriving in Prescott, playwright Micki Shelton found Kewanyama through his art two years ago and upon meeting with him discovered that as a young child he actually knew Kabotie.
"Fred Kabotie is from the same village that I'm from, Shungopavi on Second Mesa," said Kewanyama. "My dad was a silversmith and an artist, and Fred Kabotie used to manage the Hopi Cooperative Guild on Second Mesa. Sometimes my father would bring me with him to help polish the silver, and that's how I would be able to see my father working and watch Fred Kabotie managing the gallery."
For more on Native theater, see Native Performers in Cirque du Soleil and Farmer's Of Mice and Men Reviewed.
Below: "Cecily Overman (portraying Mary Colter) and Filmer Kewanyama (portraying Fred Kabotie) rehearse for the play."