In its world premiere at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, “The Way the Mountain Moved” takes us to the western frontier of the 1850s, when traveling across the continent was almost as mysterious and dangerous as traveling to another planet in our time.
Idris Goodwin’s epic focuses on a small army expedition seeking a route for the first transcontinental railroad. From our vantage point we know the railroad will destroy the lives of Native peoples, the animal populations and aspects of the landscape itself.
When the play begins, the commanding officer has died, and Lieutenant Smith, well educated but hardly a leader, reluctantly takes charge.
His men include a botanist, an illustrator, a sharpshooter and a Native guide, who loses faith in the project and returns home. Soon they hear an unbearably loud and hostile sound, as if the earth is breaking apart. As they flee the noise, they are separated in various directions.
Meanwhile, a married couple, former slaves who recently became Mormons, are lost in the wilderness. And somewhere else a woman and her daughter are stuck with a broken axle and missing oxen. And elsewhere, two Paiute women ponder the future.
As their stories intersect, all the characters speak eloquently, philosophically even, but their eloquence doesn’t convert to practical solutions in unforgiving Utah.
Goodwin has obviously researched extensively, and he loves the material, but the play is a jigsaw puzzle consisting of large chunks of history that don’t quite fit together. It seems that he hasn’t had time to transform them into a work of theatrical art, and the direction by May Andrales sometimes leaves us confused. This is Dorothy Velasco with KLCC’s Ashland Theater Review.