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"White Buffalo" takes JPAC stage this weekend

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Catherine W. Idzerda
January 22, 2014

JANESVILLE—It was a strange place for a miracle.

In August 1992, a white buffalo was born on a farm south of Janesville.

Some American Indian tribes believe that the birth of a white buffalo was supposed to signal the beginning of a period of peace and unity. So when the word got out, the farm became a place of pilgrimage.

Thousands of visitors converged on the farm, changing the lives of its owners, Val and David Heider.

This weekend, the Janesville Performing Arts Center will present the play “White Buffalo.”  The work is based very loosely on the story of the Heiders' white buffalo.

Playwright Don Zolidis graduated from Craig High School in 1993 and attended Carleton College in Minnesota. He later earned a master's degree in playwriting from the Actors Studio Drama School. Zolidis is a prolific playwright who lives in Austin, Texas, with his family.

When he visited Miracle in 1994, his imagination was captured by the people who came to the farm, the gifts and tokens they left along the fence, and how the experience transformed the lives of the people involved. 

“What really excited me about it was the convergence of philosophy and ideas that were grounded in this real event,” Zolidis said in a phone interview.

The Heiders' lives were altered, as well.

The play uses the white buffalo as a starting point, but the main characters are significantly different from the Heiders.

In Zolidis' play, a single mother runs the farm with her teenage daughter. The family is offered a significant amount of money for the buffalo. The mother struggles with the decision to sell, wondering if the animal is the answer to her financial problems or a spiritual gift of another kind.

The daughter struggles with typical teenage angst. She hates Wisconsin and despises what she sees as small-minded life in a small town. She longs for escape.

The girl's father, who has seen the family on television, has returned to the farm. The mother and daughter naturally are suspicious of his motives.

The characters' lives intersect with the spiritual happenings outside their front door, giving their ordinary struggles more dimension.

The show, which is directed by Mindy Curtis, will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Jan. 24-25, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 26. Zolidis will participate in a talk-back after Friday's performance.



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