Wirtz Center puts on “Native Guard” performance on Chicago Campus

A woman looks to the left, with a man looking to the right behind her. They are on a blue background overlaid with text.

Source: Virginia Wadsworth Wirtz Center for Performing and Media Arts

A promotional photo for “Native Guard.” The play is based on English Prof. Natasha Trethewey’s collection of poems.

Andrés Buenahora, Reporter

Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning collection of poetry by English Prof. and former U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey, Native Guard” premiered this weekend on Northwestern’s Chicago Campus.

Directed by Alliance Theatre and staged at the Wirtz Center, the play follows Trethewey’s experiences as a child of an interracial marriage in 1960s Mississippi and the story of a Black soldier in the Civil War.

Actress January LaVoy, who plays The Poet, said she has been with the production for seven years, including for its 2018 premiere in Atlanta. Her character brings Trethewey’s writing to life on the stage. 

“(It’s) hard material — beautiful material and necessary material,” LaVoy said. “Over these seven years, it somehow becomes more relevant every time. No matter how much things change in society and in our country, these are still topics we have to grapple with and learn new language for.” 

The play and poem collection were named after the first African-American Union troop in the Civil War, which was tasked with guarding White Confederate captives.

Communication freshman Cole Edelstein had high praise for the play after attending this weekend. 

“A great play makes you care and keeps you thinking about it after you leave,” he said. “‘Native Guard’ does exactly that.”

Growing up, Trethewey was never taught about the Native Guard and the role these Black soldiers played in her hometown of Gulfport, Miss. 

The book’s titular poem includes imagery Trethewey used in the play. The plot also explores Trethewey’s upbringing as the daughter of a White man and Black woman. The book and play explore the racism and discrimination Trethewey endured for years because the existence of her family was illegal in the eyes of the 1966 Mississipi government. 

Weinberg freshman Abby Coffey, who also attended the play this weekend, said she has not been to many plays before but was intrigued by the subject matter of “Native Guard.”

“I was very deeply moved by this story and the different perspectives represented by different characters,” Coffey said. 

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