MINNEAPOLIS — Westerns are considered one of the most classic Hollywood movie genres, especially during its heyday in the mid-20th century. Now the Guthrie Theater is taking the story that became one of the most popular Westerns of all time in a major way.
“Shane” tells of a mysterious and magnetic stranger who moves to a Wyoming town. The book dates from 1949; the 1953 film earned a number of top Oscar nominations, including Best Picture. It was also named one of the 100 greatest American movies ever, according to the American Film Institute.
Karen Zacarias picked up the original story to read shortly after her family emigrated from Mexico.
At the beginning of the book, his family moves from the south to Wyoming, embarking on a new country, a new what if.
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But soon she realized that the whole story had not been fully recorded.
“When you hear that a quarter of the cowboys were black and a quarter of the cowboys were Mexican, you never see that. That’s historically correct and you don’t see that,” she said.
So Zacarias, a famous Washington DC playwright, decided to adapt “Shane” for the stage – and for accuracy – in the Guthrie.
“The United States brought in a lot of people from different walks of life very early on, and that represents, that’s really the real Wild West.[It]has a lot of stories or a lot of people that we don’t normally get to see on stage,” she said.
She says that in creating her version of the titular character Black, she makes sure her cast reflects an understated reality.
“He has a backstory of growing up on a plantation in Louisiana, his mother being brought in from Cuba and his father being the head of the plantation,” she said.
She also wrote in a native character.
“Neither in the book nor in the movie do they address the arrival of homesteaders and this ‘free land’ wasn’t actually free, and there was a new character named Winona, and she was essential to the plot,” she said.
It’s a plot that she says still honors the classic version while acknowledging our history.
“It’s very fulfilling and I love all the characters. I love all the complexities. And what I love about the story is listening, not always having the answer, but letting other people tell their story,” she said.
The 90-minute game will have no intermission and will run at the Guthrie through August 27.
The 1953 film adaptation of “Shane” was produced and distributed by Paramount Pictures; CBS News shares its parent company.