Playwright Larissa FastHorse had her first show on Broadway, "The Thanksgiving Play," this past spring, a revelatory thrill that still makes her tingle. But fall 2023 in the Twin Cities will be just as meaningful for the McArthur "Genius" fellowship winner who also knows the sting of setbacks.
FastHorse is behind shows on two of the biggest stages on either side of the Mississippi. With Ty Defoe, she co-wrote "For the People," a Minneapolis-set comedy that premieres Oct. 13 at the Guthrie Theater. And her high-flying adaptation of "Peter Pan" launches a national tour at St. Paul's Ordway Center, running for the month of December.
It's exciting and sometimes a bit overwhelming for FastHorse, who grew up near the South Dakota capital of Pierre and regularly visited an aunt in St. Paul in her youth.
"As a consumer and maker of art, St. Paul and Minneapolis is where everything started for me," said the 52-year-old FastHorse. "I got my first pair of ballet shoes on Grand Avenue. The Children's Theatre [Company] gave me my first commission as a playwright ["Average Family"]. This is my artistic home."
This high-profile homecoming also provides an antidote to the biggest sour note in FastHorse's otherwise extraordinary year. Her comedy, "Fake It Until You Make It," was set to become the first play by an Indigenous writer to grace the stage of the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles, one of California's biggest playhouses. But the company that runs the Taper ran into financial difficulties and scratched its season.
"That was a big blow," FastHorse said. "We were two weeks out from rehearsal when they gave us the call. Really, really rough."
Working on "People" is a boon for her spiritual health, she said. Six years in the making and developed out of workshops with Indigenous folks in the Twin Cities, the play is about resilience as an idealistic Gen Z activist seeks grants to build a wellness center on Franklin Avenue, the heart of Indigenous Minneapolis.
"People" follows two smaller shows that FastHorse and Defoe created for the Guthrie — "Water Is Sacred" in 2017 and "Stories From the Drum" in 2019.
"I've been a fan of Larissa's writing for a long time," said Guthrie artistic director Joseph Haj, who noted that FastHorse wrote the first draft of "Thanksgiving Play" while on the company's playwriting fellowship in Ireland. Haj describes "People" as "smart, fun and delightful."
Fast-rising St. Paul-bred actor Isabella Star LaBlanc was supposed to headline "People," but the regular of HBO's "True Detective" had to pull away for a film.
"She's become too famous for us," FastHorse laughed. "No, it's fantastic. I'm thrilled that she has this movie commitment. And we have a fantastic cast."
FastHorse, who lives with her husband, sculptor Edd Hogan, in Santa Monica, Calif., believes that entertaining folks is the best way to humanize them.
"You sit next to someone who perhaps isn't anything like you and we can both laugh together at something or maybe not," FastHorse said. "We can also look at different things and wonder, why are they laughing?"
With "Peter Pan," her mission is simple.
"I don't want to ruin it for the people who've loved it forever," FastHorse said. "It has incredibly beautiful material and some of it can be harmful. So, we've taken out the harm and some outdated things that children don't relate to today, left the bold and beautiful in and connected it all back together."
FastHorse, who consulted with CTC nine years ago when the company tried to address some of the problems of "Peter Pan," has been working with the Jerome Robbins version that Cathy Rigby headlined on tour for decades. And her team includes director Lonnie Price, a "Peter Pan" devotee whom she calls the show's true north, and Amanda Green, whose father, Adolph Green, wrote lyrics for some of the show's iconic songs, including "Neverland." Amanda Green has created new music for the show.
And they have snipped the Native American dance number "Ugg-a-Wugg" as part of an attempt to weed out ugly ideas around race and gender. The edits also are for length.
"People forget that the show was three hours and two intermissions," FastHorse said. "That doesn't work today."
When her agent first brought the idea of "Peter Pan" to FastHorse, she turned it down.
"All I knew about it was that it was offensive to Native people," she said, adding that she had seen a production once as a child but it was from way in the back of the auditorium and the stage looked like a postage stamp. But after diving into the material, she's now the show's biggest champion.
"It's funny, it's smart, it's magical," FastHorse said. "If I'm going to do this musical, it's important to me that any child that gets into the theater can leave, then look out their window and see Peter fly by. So, it's not just for wealthy Victorian children in London. Peter and these children can look like anyone. And Neverland, this place where you never grow old, can hold our imaginations and dreams."
'For the People'
When & where: Oct. 7-Nov. 12, Guthrie Theater, Mpls. $29-$82. 612-377-2224.
When & where: Dec. 6-31, Ordway Center, St. Paul. $46-$151.50. 651-224-4222.