By Andy Dillehay
Animal Engine’s Henrietta Solway, Carson Theater in The Lied Center, February 25, 2023 2PM
Animal Engine’s Henrietta Solway is the product of collective creation. Inspired by the works of Willa Cather, this imaginative piece was created and performed by Carrie Brown, Katie Hartman, and Karim Muasher. Filled with original text, music, and movement, the audience was enraptured for the entire quickly-paced 90 minutes. Henrietta Solway is an absolutely innovative production.
A coming of age tale told in three parts, Henrietta Solway follows the life of Henry, later Henrietta, then known as H.T. Beginning in 1896, we meet Henry, a tomboyish 12 year old living in Empire City, a rural Nebraska town. Having lost her mother at 6 years old, Henry is quite self-sufficient and independent. After an altercation with some local boys, Henry ends up filling in for one of them at the opera house, working backstage at the performance of Hildegarde Schumann. Following an accident that renders Hildegarde Schumann unable to travel, she stays with Henry and her father to recuperate.
While staying in the Solway home, Hilde and Henry form a special bond. Hilde can see the passion and fervor that sets Henry apart from the rest of the townspeople. Henry dreams of a life bigger than the one she has in Empire City. Hilde encourages Henry to follow that drive, giving Henry a validation she had not received before.
Jumping ahead to 1905, Henrietta has just moved to New York City to pursue her passion of writing. While staying at a boarding house, Henrietta encounters Tom Hedger, a painter inspired by the vibrant community of New York. After receiving her first commission, Henrietta asks Tom to illustrate her novel. The two head to New Mexico for inspiration to create. While in New Mexico, Henrietta is forced to examine the kind of writer she is and what kind of writer she wants to be.
The story ends in 1920. H.T. Solway, now a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, goes back to Empire City; the first time in fifteen years. Faced with curiosity by her former neighbors, she explains she’s just passing through on her way to San Francisco. However, the reason for H.T.’s visit is much deeper. Having used her experiences in Empire City as inspiration, she returns to see if what she “remembered was real.”
Under the visionary direction of Melinda Jean Ferraraccio, this production is fresh and inspired. All three actors display brilliant versatility. Utilizing the cast to their full ability, Ferraraccio pushes the boundaries of expectation. With minimal scenery, this production relies on its performers to create the world in which the characters exist. The lighting design by Jaime Roderick provides effective transitions between the many different locations in which this story takes place.
Carrie Brown gives a remarkable performance as Henrietta. Between her physicality, voice, and emotional range, Brown embodies Henrietta at all stages of her life. While each phase is different, Brown creates a consistent character with exceptional depth. While this truly is an ensemble piece, Brown anchors the production.
The other two excellent performers, Katie Hartman and Karim Muasher, are forces to be reckoned with. Collectively, the two jump between dozens of characters throughout the production. With Hartman playing a ukelele and Muasher playing the mandolin, the two provide an excellent soundscape that immerses the audience. Impressively, each of their characters was distinctive. Through the use of their bodies and voices, Hartman and Muasher also created additional scenery and a variety of sound effects.
Although Henrietta Solway is an original piece, it feels like it was written by Willa Cather herself. The creators of this production did a marvelous job honoring the legacy of Cather and her work while generating something completely unique. As a lifelong fan of Willa Cather, this was a true delight.
Animal Engine’s Henrietta Solway ran in the Johnny Carson Theater in The Lied Center
Friday, February 24, 2023 | 7:30 PM
Saturday, February 25, 2023 | 2:00 PM
Saturday, February 25, 2023 | 7:30 PM
Andy Dillehay is an artist from Lincoln, Nebraska. Through a variety of mediums, Andy explores his love of storytelling.
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