DeLanna Studi has a powerful story to tell. She currently is telling it on the stage of the Ellyn Bye Studio at Portland Center Stage at The Armory. The 41-year-old actress/playwright has written and performs And So We Walked, An Artist’s Journey along the Trail of Tears.
Studi is Cherokee. Actually, her mother is white, but within the Cherokee Nation, if you are any part Cherokee, you’re Cherokee. “My grandmothers speak to me in my dreams,” says Studi. And some time back, after some grandmotherly intervention and soul searching, Studi invited her father to join her in her journey along the historic Cherokee Trail of Tears, a 900-mile route stretching from their tribe’s ancestral land in North Carolina to Oklahoma. The journey was life-changing for both of them.
Studi’s storytelling is magical. And she is remarkable as an actress as well as a playwright. With direction by Corey Madden, she paces the stage with a long red scarf–original fire and blood memory. John Coyne’s set of trees and clouds and Norman Coates’s lighting and projection are equally magical. They adapt to every situation required of them from forests to urban milieus. Original music is by sound designer Bruce Louchouarn, John John Grant, and Sarah Elizabeth Burkey, with costumes by Andja Budincich.
And So We Walked is a journey of Biblical proportion. It is the history of the Cherokee Nation who are cast from the promised land by greedy wrongdoers. It’s the story of Studi’s father finding new life. Most important, it’s the story of one Cherokee woman’s spiritual coming of age– and how she gains strength from both the journey and the story to put her past issues aside and move forward in strength, to put aside the “I” for the gadugi, the community, and to continue the oral tradition for future generations.
And So We Walked continues its Portland Center Stage run through May 13. It is suitable for ages 10 and up.