The historical moment of the play is well-documented: the sanctioning by General Jeffery Amherst, commander of North American troops after the French and Indian War, of the use of smallpox-tainted blankets to kill Native Americans in the Ohio Valley, where they had been rising up in anger and achieving a decent amount of success against the British.
The story is one of betrayal: a country, king, and military leaders betray a continent full of indigenous people; a colonel (Henri Bouquet, Amherst’s second-in-command) betrays one of his officers (Simeon), blackmailing him and forcing him to betray his wife; and Ecuyer himself, committing the ultimate betrayal, telling Ann that the blankets she is delivering to her Shawnee friend are a peace offering rather than the weapon they are.
The plot of Savage swirls around Simeon Ecuyer, captain of Fort Pitt (around which Pittsburgh subsequently sprang up) and, along with his wife, Ann, a recent survivor of smallpox.
After losing their young son to the disease a year before, the captain of the new fort is desperate not to lose his dear wife. Unfortunately, Ann, who also was devastated by the loss, has taken to walking through the forest alone and is adept at evading the troops assigned to follow her. In order to keep her safe, Simeon convinces her to allow him to teach her how to shoot his pistols. In short order, Ann is forced to use them to save a young Shawnee woman (Dancing Willow) from being assaulted by an English officer. Unfortunately, that officer turns out to be Simeon’s new commanding officer, Henri Bouquet.
It becomes clear that the Native Americans are winning the battle: Chief Pontiac began a rebellion in Detroit that is spreading across the Ohio Valley, and British men, women, and children are being slaughtered in large numbers. Bouquet convinces Jeffery Amherst (commander of all Colonial troops) that it’s a great idea to infect the “savages” with smallpox, using tainted linens. At the same time, Bouquet blackmails Ecuyer into making Ann deliver those blankets to Dancing Willow, under threat of hanging Ann for having threatened Bouquet with a pistol. Ecuyer has to decide whether he will betray his wife in order to save her. Ultimately, he does.
Bouquet defeats the Indians at nearby Bushy Run, lifting the siege on Fort Pitt, and “accidentally” lets slip the part Ecuyer—and an unwitting Ann—played in the defeat. Horrified, Ann rushes to the Shawnee village to find her friend on her deathbed. Dancing Willow’s grandmother, The Stone Woman, asks Ann to take Dancing Willow’s young son to the next village, so he may not become sick. As they’re leaving, Ecuyer rushes in—to save her—but Bouquet shoots Ann, for giving “bold comfort to the enemy.”
Several of these were recorded in the studio, and others come from 2014 reading in the EAT festival in Manhattan.
As the lights come up; in the show the flutes, strings, and various drums represent the Native American side of things, winds (brass and woodwinds) and snare drum on the British side. The opening of the show combines the two, along with partial statements of two of the show’s major themes.
I Am Forgot (http://youtu.be/x5dObzpZEtQ)
Captain Simeon Ecuyer gets a visit from General Jeffery Amherst, commander of all British troops in North America and hero of the French and Indian War. Lady Jeffery, his wife, has accompanied her husband on a postwar “victory lap” and is apoplectic with fear that she may, at any moment, be attacked by the “Savages.” She makes but a brief appearance in each act.
Jeffery Amherst explains how he dealt with “those pesky insects,” the Native Americans to whom he’d promised many things if they fought with the British against the French. Lord Jeff is sung by me (doing my best character tenor), with the brilliant Xander Chauncey as Ecuyer.
I Never Knew (from YouTube)
Ann Ecuyer, wife of Captain Ecuyer, is lost in grief over the loss of her little son the year before and has come to the bank of a river to take her own life. Her attention is caught by the movements of a Native American downstream. At first Ann is terrified, but she sees that it is a young woman, who doesn’t look as savage as tales had led her to expect. The young Shawnee woman calls to her own little son, who joins her at the river to learn how to tan a deer hide. The woman instructs him and, as he works, reflects on how different raising a boy is from what she thought it would be. Ann is captivated by the sight of the young mother and her son, and she reflects on how different the “heathens” are from how her countrymen have described them. My fabulous singers are Hannah Jane McMurray as Ann and Daniella Dalli as Dancing Willow. Dancing Willow’s little boy is voiced by Kara Curtis.
“I Must Protect You” is sung by Ecuyer to his wife, Ann. She has taken to wandering the woods, in search of a salve for the pain she has been in for the past year. Ecuyer, resigned to the fact that she will not stop her wandering, is trying to convince her to allow him to teach her to protect herself with his pistols. In this song we learn just why she has been in such pain. (In case you don’t want to listen all the way through, I’ll spoil it: when the two of them had smallpox a year previously, they were far luckier than their six-year-old boy, Jonah, who didn’t survive.) Simeon Ecuyer is sung here by Xander Chauncey, the best Ecuyer I can imagine.
Four Winds Blush (http://bit.ly/V7NNuO).
The young Shawnee woman Ann had spied at the river (Dancing Willow) is tending her small crop of corn when she sees rainclouds approaching. In an attempt to make them leave, she sings a song to the four Wind Spirits, showing them her legs to embarrass them into going. (At the end of the song, a British officer who has been spying on her attempts to sexually assault her, and she is saved by Ann.) In this live performance, Dancing Willow is sung by Daniella Dalli.
All Alone (http://youtu.be/oT6sSMvDXiY).
Ann has saved Dancing Willow from being assaulted by the British officer, threatening the man with her pistols to force him to leave. The two women finally meet. Dancing Willow senses Ann’s grief and realizes she has lost her son. From around her neck, Dancing Willow takes a small doll she made for her own son and gives it to Ann. The two women promise to meet often and teach each other their respective languages. In “All Alone,” Ann sings of that loss. (The lights also rise on Simeon in his office, who holds up the small wooden sword Jonah used to brandish on a hillside.) In this live performance, Ann is sung by Hannah Jane McMurray.
The Fairer Sex (http://youtu.be/q99venO4rH0).
After nearly shooting the British officer, Ann rushes back to Fort Pitt to tell Simeon what happened. She finds him preparing to receive his new commanding officer, who is scheduled to inspect the fort and sup with them. He doesn’t have time to hear Ann’s story, for his new commander arrives right then: it is the man who nearly raped Dancing Willow—the man Ann nearly killed with a pistol. Ann is terrified and says nothing, and the man, Colonel Henri Bouquet, suggests a toast to Ann by him and Ecuyer. In this live performance, Simeon Ecuyer is sung by Xander Chauncey, Tom Hewitt sings Col. Bouquet, and Hannah Jane McMurray sings Ann.
Nine Forts Down (http://youtu.be/CW-aSB3qIDk).
At the top of Act II, the soldiers beg Sergeant Cannock and Private Tuggle for news of Chief Pontiac’s rebellion. Pontiac has laid siege to Fort Detroit, and the violence spreads like wildfire across the Ohio Valley, coming closer and closer to the Pitt.
Colonel and King (http://bit.ly/1KmVXai)
After winning the Battle of Bushy run, the men sing a victory song, revealing their initial skepticism over using the Native Americans’ own tactics against them.