All Classical Radio James Depreist

Moving a mountain of American mythos

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival's "The Way the Mountain Moved" pushes us to rethink images and ideas of how the West was "won."


For the past decade, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s American Revolutions program has commissioned playwrights to examine turning points in U.S. history. Playwright Idris Goodwin has heeded the call with his new play, The Way the Mountain Moved, a revisionist look at a supposedly well-known piece of American history: how the West was won.

Not your typical white cowboy heroes, Julian Remulia (from left), Maddy Flemming, Sara Bruner and Al Espinosa represent other figures of the American West in “The Way the Mountain Moved” at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Photo: Jenny Graham.

Specifically, The Way the Mountain Moved — which continues through October 28 — is set in Utah in the 1850s. The cast of characters is made up primarily of people who have long been ignored by the American Western: There are African-American Mormons (yes, they exist), Mexican immigrants, single women and their daughters, Native Americans. With this play, Goodwin, OSF, and director May Adrales point out the hypocrisy inherent in American Westerns (not to mention in this country, in general), with their singular focus on the white cowboy as hero, when we all know the white cowboy character (and, in fact, our country) were built upon the backs of people of color and women, so long and largely ignored.

As is so often the case at OSF, the performances here are incredible – particularly Christiana Clark and Rodney Gardiner as Martha and Orson, the African-American Mormons who fight an internal battle between their faith and their own inherent belief in themselves and their equality. Rex Young is also strong as an idealistic scientist who believes in doing what’s right, but all the while is working for the very government that is tearing everyone else’s lives apart. Al Espinosa, Sara Bruner, and Maddy Fleming also stand out, respectively, as a Mexican citizen who isn’t sure which side he’s on and a mother and daughter who have lost nearly everything and are fighting for the little they have left.

This is a beautifully written play. It’s suspenseful – you’ll find yourselves waiting for and wondering about how these interconnected stories will come together. It’s powerful – Orson and Martha’s storyline will especially make you think (and rethink) long after you have left the theater. It’s relevant – the role of guns in America is, of course, still a huge source of conflict today, and this play takes a bleak look at our long relationship with those weapons.

Sara Ryung Clement’s smart, efficient scenic design uses every inch of the Thomas Theatre to bring vast swaths of the American frontier to life. Screens projecting both text and backdrops on all four walls help. Deborah M. Dryden’s costumes set us right down in the time and place of the play, and then tell us more about each character before he or she even speaks: We know Young’s George is from a different class and place than Espinosa’s Luis before we know much else about them.

This is not a perfect play or production, however. The lighting is a little dark at times, giving the false impression that every scene takes place at night. And the ending is both abrupt, unexpected, and unsatisfying, with the last few moments of the play spent on characters we haven’t yet gotten to know. These are important characters, Kusavi (Shyla Lefner) and Chuxa (Jen Olivares), Native Americans who represent the rightful owners of the West. But the messages they carry would hit home harder if the audience had time to develop a connection to them like we have with the other characters.

Unlike Goodwin’s And in this Corner: Cassius Clay, which Oregon Children’s Theatre put on a superb production of earlier this year, The Way the Mountain Moved doesn’t end or begin with a solid position: You won’t walk out of this play knowing what the playwright and director wanted you to think, which can be confusing and a little disturbing, but might ultimately be a good thing.


CMNW Summer Festival SB FIXED #1, TP, Top

This play gives us a new way of looking at our mythic stories that also asks us to reassess the world we live in, and how we got here. Audience members who believe the Wild West was really won the way it’s depicted in John Wayne films might see their history a little differently. Some audience members who have never seen the role people like them played in this time period might leave feeling empowered and vindicated. Others might leave without any earth-shattering changes, but with questions to ponder or answers to seek. If it makes us think about our world in a new way, the play has done important work.


Be part of our
growing success

Join our Stronger Together Campaign and help ensure a thriving creative community. Your support powers our mission to enhance accessibility, expand content, and unify arts groups across the region.

Together we can make a difference. Give today, knowing a donation that supports our work also benefits countless other organizations. When we are stronger, our entire cultural community is stronger.

Donate Today

Photo Joe Cantrell

DeAnn Welker is a writer and editor and a lifelong Oregonian (the sixth generation in her family to be born here). She has three daughters who share her passion for the arts, especially TV and theater. As a journalist, she has written or worked for The Oregonian, Oregon ArtsWatch, Television Without Pity (RIP),,, and the Anchorage Daily News. She also spent a season working in marketing at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Now she spends her days working from home as a proposal manager and most of her evenings and weekends driving her kids somewhere. She also volunteers as a Girl Scout leader for her daughters' troops. She lives in Tualatin with her three daughters, her boyfriend, and their smooth collie, Percy. When she's not at the theater, you'll find her reading, watching documentaries, listening to podcasts, or watching TV (usually a reality show like Big Brother or The Challenge or rewatching Friends).


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

CMNW Summer Festival SB FIXED #1, TP, Top
Seattle Opera Pagliacci
Profile Theatre Reggie Hoops
PAM 12 Month
OCCA Monthly
Astoria Open Studios Tour
NW Dance Project
Maryhill Museum of Art
Oregon Cultural Trust DEC 2023
Oregon ArtsWatch holder
We do this work for you.

Give to our GROW FUND.