PHOTO BY DIANE SOBOLEWSKI
When theater director and college professor at Wesleyan University Kim Weild was a teenager, her father spoke words to her that would resonate for years afterward: “How you walk in the world speaks volumes.” He wanted her to appreciate all that she had, but also to realize that it is transient and could so easily be lost or taken away. His message was essentially “There but for the grace of God, go I,” to encourage her to be kind, caring and helpful to the people she encountered in life.Those words, especially if that walk is in a pair of moccasins, are prophetically coming true now that Weild has been involved in the world premiere musical “Indian Joe” at Goodspeed’s Norma Terris Theatre in Chester from Thursday, October 22 to Sunday, November 15. As the director of this new work, with book by Elizabeth A. Davis and Chris Henry, music by Ms. Davis. Luke Holloway and Jason Michael Webb and lyrics by Ms. Davis, Kim Weild was immediately drawn to the story of this unusual and true relationship that emphasized the “beauty of the human condition.”Elizabeth Davis has lived the story of Joe Lightfoot Gonzales, their fourteen year friendship, as well as written it, composed the music for it and is now starring as herself in this highly personal piece. As a college student at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, Liz was only 18 when she met Joe in a church basement. The friendship that developed between this unlikely pair, a homeless Native American man who was down on his luck and a privileged young girl who had won several beauty pageants and wanted to do a good deed, is at the heart of the story. Her struggles as an artist teeter tottered with his bouts of living on the streets and alcoholism, but, despite their differences, they created a deep and enduring bond. They became family.It was not uncommon for Liz, as part of the charity she created “Bridging the Gap,” to cook a hundred meals every Sunday in her apartment and then take them to Mission Waco, which serves this under- helped population. She wanted to be of service, but Joe, proud and often irascible, resisted that assistance. Her boyfriend Jordan at the time, helped Joe make the transition from stranger to one of the family. Jordan, an African-American who plays a mean acoustic guitar, is played by Jahi A. Kearse and is part of the unlikely triangle with this Choctaw Indian aching for a good fight and Caucasian girl who writes songs and is on a mission. Gary Farmer is making Joe his own creation, bringing Joe to life in spirit and in deed.After college, as the years and miles separated them, Liz and Joe continued their relationship with words and emails that echo in this sensitive story. Kim Weild relates that a collage of images of Joe fill a theater wall of real places they shared so “it’s like Joe is in the room and we hear his voice.” This is “not a docu-drama.” Rather it is a “theatricalized story” that creates the world of the play. It began as an essay and grew to be the extraordinary full length musical it is today.Liz wrote this musical to celebrate Joe’s life. He died August 15, 2014 at the age of 68 after a courageous bout with prostate cancer. She even wrote his obituary. Even though his formal education only extended to the seventh grade, he was “gifted with street smarts” and held positions in a funeral home, restaurants and newspaper offices. He enjoyed walking the great outdoors and reading inspirational books.Joe Lightfoot Gonzales was known as a giving and loyal friend, blessed with a great sense of humor and an equally strong temper. He considered Elizabeth his unofficially adopted daughter. For her part, Liz still works with the homeless, now at Covenant House in New York which offers help for homeless teens. She hopes her musical will help young people and she has created a memorial scholarship in his name at Baylor, the Joe Lightfoot Gonzales Memorial Fund, at www.baylor.edu/give or indianjoethemusical.com/takeaction, hoping to raise $50,000 for Native American students. “It’s good that Joe’s life and struggle could help the lives of first-year college students. An education was something Joe never had and he was very aware of that,” according to Liz.To come meet Joe, Liz and Jordan and their friends, call Goodspeed at 860-873-8668 for tickets ($48) or online at www.goodspeed.org. Performances are Wednesday at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. at the Norma Terris Theatre, 33 North Main Street, Chester.Discover the colorful tapestry that Liz and Joe created together as the song “Sewn Together” illustrates, the bond they forged and stitched with strong and sturdy thread for a lifetime and beyond. She gave him roots and he gave her wings.