American History, Unvarnished, Is Retold in PTC's 'INK'

By Burnham, Emily | Bangor Daily News (Bangor, ME), March 26, 2012 | Go to article overview

American History, Unvarnished, Is Retold in PTC's 'INK'


Burnham, Emily, Bangor Daily News (Bangor, ME)


The road from idea to fully produced show that Alice Van Buren's play, "INK," has taken over the years has been a long one, full of diligent research, careful vetting and countless rewrites. When "INK" has its world premiere at the Penobscot Theatre Company this Friday, March 30, directed by Kappy Kilburn, it will mark a high point of a play that has been in the works, in one form or another, for nearly 25 years.

"I've lived with this story for a very long time," Van Buren said. "It still feels vivid to me, though. It still feels real."

The story starts in Rhode Island, when Van Buren was a graduate student in literature at Brown University. She would drive around Providence and look at all the place names, such as King Philip Plaza and Metacomit Boulevard. The Native Americans of southern New England may have been wiped out 300 years ago, but their words and history remained -- even in something as simple as a street sign.

"All the history behind it is so vital to what America is today, and is so little known by the vast majority of Americans," said Van Buren, who now lives in New Mexico. "We know almost nothing about what actually happened before we were a country, and the horrible things we did to the Native people that lived here."

Van Buren began researching the tribes of that area and came across the remarkable story of a real colonial woman: Mary Rowlandson. In 1676, Rowlandson and her three children were kidnapped by a band of Wampanoag and Narragansett Indians and were held captive for nearly three months. Several years after her release, she wrote a strikingly candid narrative of her captivity, "The Sovereignty and Goodness of God."

"Even with all the long, religious diatribes in the book, it's still very readable," Van Buren said. "It's unpretentious, and it spares no detail. She really shot from the hip."

She was a Puritan pastor's wife, after all -- which makes it all the more remarkable that it was the first book published by a woman in the new world, and it has never been out of print. Though Van Buren had never written a play in her life, she knew Rowlandson's story would make dramatic, compelling fodder for either stage or screen. But grad school and life put that idea on the back burner, and for more than a decade, Van Buren let it simmer. Then 9/11 happened, and Rowlandson's words and story came roaring back into her life.

"All that screaming and yelling and talk of evil-doers, all that righteous rage felt extremely similar, to me, to the kind of language Mary and other Puritans used back then," Van Buren said. "There seemed to be this long thread running through American history of fear of the other, and belief that America is somehow the chosen country. I started hearing all these people in my head."

Van Buren jumped back into research, going over books and texts she'd read nearly 15 years prior in the libraries at Harvard University, and finding her own notes scribbled in the margins. Eventually, Van Buren had a first draft of the play that became "INK" -- a tough and unflinching look at Rowlandson's story told from both her perspective and the perspective of the Native Americans.

Though the play is ultimately extremely sympathetic to the injustices done to the Natives, it does not shy away from using Rowlandson's own often offensive and demeaning language about Indians. …

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