Skip to main content

Borderlands and Migration Salvage

December, 2016

Production photos provided courtesy of Oklahoma City Theatre Company

Set in Blackfeet Country, a multi-generational family running a salvage yard in Cut Bank, Montana migrate from the borders of normal life into the borders of tragedy and loss from a deadly accident. Their lives quickly migrate from normalcy into the borders of blame, fear and revenge.  The play begins with Wolf, a young husband and father returning home shaken from a serious car accident. He tells his wife Memela, his car crossed the centerline causing a head-on collision on Highway 2. The accident injures his passenger father, Wolfert, and critically injures the Stovers, a reservation family in the oncoming vehicle. When Memela learns the name of the injured family, her response migrates between blame, panic, and fear. She reveals to Wolf the long-running blood feud between her father and the Stover family over the sale of a car.  When the legal matter and investigation of the accident migrates to the borders of the reservation, the tribal court finds the circumstances of the accident inconclusive. Shortly after the hearing, Stover’s wife migrates to the spirit realm as a result of her injuries. Enraged, Stover launches a campaign of violent revenge against Wolf and his family.  As a result, the two families metaphorically and physically migrate further into the borders of tragedy and loss.

Production History Borders and Migrations

Glancy’s inspiration for writing Salvage came from her own migration and border crossing during a research trip to Montana. In her notes about the play, she states, “I was traveling on Highway 2 in Montana researching Stone Heart, a play about Sacajawea and the 1804-06 Lewis & Clark expedition, when I passed a salvage yard, and the characters of Salvage got in my car. They were quiet as I worked on Sacajawea, and when I was finished, they began to speak.”

Salvage was developed with support from a MAP (Multi-Arts Production) Grant, the Creative Capital Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation by Native Voices at the Autry in Los Angeles during their 2005-2007 annual playwrights retreats and Festival of New Plays. In 2008, Native Voices at the Autry migrated the play and facilitated readings at the Public Theater's Native Theater Festival in New York and the Literary Managers and Directors National Conference at La Jolla Playhouse. Salvage had its world premiere at Native Voices at the Autry, in Los Angeles in March 2009.  The full production was chosen and migrated to perform at the Origins Festival at Border Crossings Theatre in London, England later that year. In 2012, Salvage migrated again to Oklahoma City as a regional premiere and the featured production of The Oklahoma City Theatre Company’s Native American New Play Festival.

Glancy deconstructs the western theatrical convention of separate acts bordering a lineal sequence of events. Instead, the play sequences 32 snapshot scenes that compress diverse moments in time and place migrating between the borders of the physical and spiritual realms. The structure migrates into the borders of tragic events using tempo to create the world of the play that mirrors a dream-like pictographic memory. The dialogue seamlessly migrates between the borders of vivid imagery, metaphor, action and character exposition in a poetic infusion of language inspired by the Montana landscape and the salvage yard itself.  The only characters who physically appear on stage in the play are Wolf, Memela and Wolfert. The characters of Stover and other family members mentioned in the text cross the borders of the imagination migrating to the stage through Glancy’s use of vivid language and palpable dramatic tension.

The characters of Salvage migrate around, within and among colliding borders of chaos and fallout from the accident. Wolfert’s Blackfeet traditions and interactions within the unseen realm is rebuffed by Wolf who states, “Tradition is a salvage yard” (Scene 12).  Memela migrates and retreats into the borders of her Catholic faith as the borders of her once stable life quickly dissolve amidst Stover’s ensuing revenge. Wolf’s attempts to shield his family and single-handedly border Stover’s escalating acts of violence are diminished by Memela who becomes bitter from Wolf’s seeming inaction.

In the LA Times review of the 2009 world premiere of Salvage at Native Voices at the Autry, F. Kathleen Foley astutely recognizes the razor thin border between fate and accident by posing the question, “Did Wolf wander over that line in a moment of fatal distraction? Did the driver of the other car? Or did they cross over that thin divider simultaneously in a moment of catastrophic convergence?” Foley’s review further notes Glancy’s storytelling that migrates and resists borders between genres, cultures and dramaturgy: “The escalating cycle of violence and retribution is as Greek as it is tribal. Passages of delicate poeticism are interspersed with scenes of striking terror.  Wolf's tenacious antagonist is never seen. Neither are Wolf's two young sons, collateral damage in the escalating conflict. The action centers entirely around Wolf (Noah Watts), his wife, Memela (Elena Finney), and Wolf's father, Wolfert (Robert Greygrass-Owens).”

Geographical/Physical Borders and Migrations

Stover crosses into the borders of blood revenge and begins nightly migrations to the borders of Wolf and Memela’s property in Cut Bank to enact revenge. Stover also migrates the highways stalking Wolf and Memela in the vehicles. Though Stover never appears on stage, his stalking and acts of violence are learned through exposition.

Scene 5


WOLF: (RILED) Stover rammed the gate of Blackfeet Salvage Yard—He pulled his wrecked car to his house—The sheriff said it’s parked in front for everyone to see. 


Scene 7


(The phone rings)


MEMELA: Hello.  Hello?  They hung up.  WOLF!!!   They’re calling on the phone—They’ll be coming into our house— 

WOLF: How do you know it was them?

MEMELA: The phone rings.  It stops.  It rings again.

WOLF: Unplug the phone.  Turn the cell phones on vibrate.


Scene 8

  WOLF: They spray-painted KILLER on the corrugated fence at Blackfeet Salvage Yard while we were gone. They’ll hunt us down.  They’ll wait for the sheriff to be asleep. They’ll wait until we’re off guard. These reservation wars—Us against us.

Scene 13


(Night. Memela is alone on the road)


MEMELA: Those headlights are blinding.  Why are they following so close?  What are you doing?  Where are the dogs when I need them?  Where’s the phone.  Jesus.  Wolf—you never have your cell phone with you.  You’ve unplugged the phone at the house—the boys might answer anyway.

(The car BUMPS hers…she cries out…reaches for her cell phone, dials)

911? (FRANTIC) A car is following me. It’s Memela—Wolf’s wife—You know—Millie— it’s me!!!!  Send the sheriff—Get Wolf for me. I don’t know where I am. Now the car is passing. I don’t know what mile marker.  Highway 2.  They’re ahead of me now—going slow— they’re almost stopped.  I AM CALM.  I am passing— now they are BEHIND ME AGAIN!!

(BUMP…she cries out again when the car hits hers…)

Get away from me.  SEND SOMEONE!!  Wait— a mailbox is ahead—Jacobs—

(BUMP… she cries out again)


Scene 17


(The men leave. There are noises. Memela goes to the door in the dark. Wolfert is whimpering.  Wolf comes in, nearly bumps into Memela. He covers her mouth with his hand)


WOLF: Don’t scream.  The dogs are dead.  Someone left them at the back door. Wolfert slipped in the blood.  Help me get him in. 

Scene 21

Night…Wolf hears a noise in the yard.  He picks up the rifle and leaves…)

WOLF: He must watch our house from here.

(Wolf hunkers down)

Harry—I hear you there in the grass.  What are you doing?  Scaring a woman and two boys?  I could kill you. You got my name painted on your car for everyone to see. But I’m throwing down my rifle. 

(Wolf places his rifle on the ground…)

Let’s talk. Someone’s going to get hurt. I smell the alcohol. My wife says I have to forgive—we have to forgive—Don’t push me.  Stop!!

I couldn’t help it, Harry. STOP!!!  I can’t hit you again.


Wolf kills Stover during an altercation after finding him outside the home. He is sentenced to 12 years for involuntary manslaughter. He migrates to the county jail and then to the Montana State Prison in Deer Lodge, Montana.

Scene 22

WOLF: Memela, I have to talk to you.

MEMELA: What now?

WOLF: I tried your way.  I tried to forgive.

I found Harry Stover between the salvage yard and the house. He wouldn’t leave. I tried to talk.  I tried to stop him—We wrestled.  He held me down—I got the upper hand—Hit.  Hit.  I held him down— strangled—I stumbled away.  He stayed on the ground—I didn’t mean to. He came after me—

(Wolfert nods in agreement)


I think another man rose to his heaven by my hand—

(Wolfert lays his hands on Wolf’s shoulders. They stand together silently for a moment…)


MEMELA: The sheriff will have to come after you now. What will I do without you? 

How will I get into our bed by myself? 

WOLF: I should turn myself in. 

If I don’t, it’ll be worse.

Ostracized from the community, and fearing her teaching contract won’t be renewed, Memela packs up the home and prepares to migrate to an unknown destination.


(Day. Wolfert and Memela. Memela is packing some dishes to take with her)


WOLFERT: You can’t leave him, Memela. What if I went to the cemetery and Phoebe wasn’t there?

MEMELA: Don’t do this, Wolfert   (Memela turns from Wolfert…)

WOLFERT: He needs you now—

WOLFERT: I’m moving back to our house in the salvage yard.

MEMELA: It’s a shack. You can’t stay there.

WOLFERT: It’s where my life was. You stay here, Memela, in this house. You don’t have anywhere else to go.

MEMELA: Yes, I do, Wolfert. I can apply for teaching jobs other places where they don’t know what’s happened.

WOLFERT: The boys belong here—on this land.

MEMELA: The boys live in cyber space. It goes where they go—just like the old ways.

Throughout the play, Wolfert frequently migrates to the cemetery leaving the borders of the physical realm to enter into the spirit realm. He converses with his dead wife Phoebe and their children. Wolf is his only surviving child.

Scene 4 

WOLFERT: You’ve got them all with you, Phoebe. All but Wolf our youngest, born when the others were grown. He used to Pow Wow beside me.  I can still see him circling.  I can’t tell you what happened—though I think you know.  You were there with me—shielding us.  I didn’t tell them—They had enough trouble understanding.  Winston was there too.  I’ve dreamed of you beside me.  You should see Wolf’s boys—One of them looks more and more like Frank—who was starting to look like Winston.  The clinic’s got medicine now for fever.  I wish I could say the same about alcohol—though it’s the accidents still getting us.  Sometimes I look at the constellations and see the shape of cars. Have Winston take you back—I don’t want you crossing the stars by yourself.

Scene 9


WOLFERT: Phoebe my wife, Phoebe—Now the stars look like used auto parts. Are the heavens a salvage yard?  Is that what we are?  The boys computerized the inventory—the makes of cars—the parts available.  I hear them at the keyboard.  I peck also.  It sounds like old motors trying to turn over.  The sky is an internet—full of communication—Order after order for fender, door, grille, piston, tie rod, wheel bearing, tail light—parts for rebuilding—for restoration.  Our salvage yard is a landing zone.  I know you don’t like me with a gun, but I carry one now.  I don’t want you to leave, but I know you have to go, Phoebe.  No one wants to stay—once they’ve been in the heavens.


Scene 14

WOLFERT: You were on the road with Meme. You left as we arrived.  Why didn’t you stay? Phoebe—What is happening? Did a space ship land? Did it suck us up and carry us away to a distant place?  What world is this? Do we sit and receive it like bread?

In the final scene of the play, Wolf sees a woman from his prison cell window crossing the borders of the Montana State Prison walls as it begins to snow in his jail cell. Wolf migrates into the borders of the spirit realm within the borders of his prison cell.

Scene 32 WOLF: It’s a slide show in here—Splinters fly into me—I’ve got slivers in my skin—I remember when there were gradations.  Shadings.  Things seen from different ways. I remember when things weren’t one way or another—but could vary—They were looser— not so tight against the wind pipe. (Pause) I look from the prison window through snow falling. There’s a figure walking in the distance—I press my face to the glass—She continues walking toward the gate.  Something’s happening—The snow falls in pieces of light—I look at her again—She comes to me wearing a white cardigan—a white cardigan covered with pearl buttons. (It starts to snow on Wolf in his cell. He lifts his arms up to it…Black out)

Traditional Blackfeet Borders and Migrations

Wolfert’s borders around the old ways is a source of conflict within the family. After the accident, Wolf and Memela visit Wolfert in the hospital. Memela’s borders around her Catholicism are also a source of conflict within the family. She offers a bible to Wolfert for spiritual comfort and healing.


Scene 2


MEMELA: Your heart monitor looks like waves coming to the shore, Wolfert. (She hands the Bible to Wolfert) This is the bread that comes from heaven.  If any man eats this bread, he will live forever. 

WOLFERT: I hated this book—This Bible—This loaf of bread.  (Wolfert takes the Bible from Memela. He tears out a page...) This is what I think of it. 

Memela defends the borders of her Catholic belief despite Wolf’s reference to the historical trauma caused by the church.


Scene 8


MEMELA: We stepped into a religion that settles our conflicts.  We have to think about forgiveness.  Wolfert’s got his gun.  I’ve got boys in the house.

WOLF: Memela’s got her Savior. Her lightning in the storm. They killed in the name of their God—

MEMELA: —Who has become our God? 

WOLF: Not all of us.

MEMELA: But mine. But mine.

Wolfert implores Wolf to migrate into the borders of tradition as a solution to the conflict with Stover.  Wolfert momentarily migrates away from English and crosses into the borders of Blackfeet culture speaking to Wolf in their traditional language.


Scene 12


WOLFERT: Look to the old ways, Wolf—

WOLF: (REFUTING HIS FATHER) Tradition is a salvage yard.

WOLFERT: Let the spirit world bring you back to yourself.


(They speak a few syllables in the old language)

WOLFERT: The brush beyond the boulder off Hibbard Road—

WOLF: (NODS HIS HEAD) Where I killed my first deer.

WOLFERT: Three miles off Highway 2 on the old Browning Road.

WOLF: (NODS) Where you found the first car you sold as salvage.

WOLFERT: It was the old ways—gave us the idea for the salvage yard. WOLF: (JERKING AWAY FROM WOLFERT) I’m not floating into the past.  My breath itches.  I got to beat the walls.  I got to throw rocks against the corrugated fence of the salvage yard. 

Wolfert migrates into a memory from Catholic boarding school. He shares a story with Wolf how the borders of tradition taught him resiliency. Wolfert migrates into the borders of embodied resilience by making a traditional hand drum from a car filter as he talks with Wolf.

Scene 20


WOLF: What’re you doing, Dad?

WOLFERT: Making a drum.

WOLF: (IMPATIENT) What will that do? You think it’ll help?

WOLFERT: In boarding school, one of the teachers was mean. They were all mean—but this one was meaner.  We didn’t like any of the teachers, but we hated him. Then we knew he was sick.  He walked bent over. He turned yellow around the mouth. We heard him vomit.  At night he howled. When we first knew he was sick, we were glad. It kept him away from us.  He deserved to suffer. It was what he had caused us. But in chapel, they had us pray for him and something broke in me. Somehow, I found compassion. Winston did too. We took a wooden bowl from the kitchen. We stretched a deer skin across the top of it and secured it with sinew. We sat in his room singing and drumming. Not loud. You hardly knew we were there.  But it filled the room with a sense of presence. Anything was bearable because of the drum. Sometimes he opened a crusted eye to see who was there. Maybe he hoped we would shove a knife into him and relieve him of his suffering. But we sang.  I think he rose to his heaven on the road of our song. Somebody that sick is going to die, Wolf. Someone that full of rage—the bile is going to get him.

WOLF: You helped him die.

WOLFERT: It was what I had to do.


Wolfert implores Memela to migrate to tradition to solve the conflict with Stover. In her reply to Wolfert, she reveals the story of her migration to Catholicism and the impermeable borders she maintains around it. 

Scene 23


WOLFERT: …If Wolf could make some sort of restitution to the family—

MEMELA: NO! Not now—those Stovers—those trouble-causers, those DOG-KILLERS!!

WOLFERT: It’s our tradition, Meme.

MEMELA: My tradition is supposed to be forgiveness—When I was a girl, a neighbor took me to church.  I heard something there.  In all the noise and upheaval at my house, something stuck.  There was a small voice I’ve carried with me.  That night on the road when Stover followed me—I saw someone—a Savior dressed in animal skin wearing string lights—  

WOLFERT: I thought I saw Phoebe.


Wolfert visits Wolf in prison. He offers him comfort and encouragement urging Wolf to migrate into the borders of tradition.


Scene 30


WOLFERT: It’s about alignment. It’s a dance. 

Listen to your dreams, Wolf.  Dreams and stories are medicine.

WOLF: (IMPATIENTLY) Yeah, yeah. 

WOLFERT: Something will come to you.  Maybe someone dressed in elk-skin. 




By the plays’ end, the borders between time and place collide and merge as Memela, Wolfert and Wolf migrate within their pain, anguish and confusion simultaneously. The characters appear together on stage in different locations with Memela at the house, Wolfert in the cemetery, and Wolf in the Montana State Prison.


Scene 31



(Night. MEMELA is at the house. Wolfert is in the cemetery.  He puts on a radiator for a breast plate and talks to his dead wife.  He holds his drum made from an air-filter. Wolf is in Montana State Prison.  In the dark cell, the weight of prison falls upon him.  Wolf draws up into a ball)


WOLF: I can’t sleep!  Terror is here. Men cry out.  Dad—I hear angry shouts. 

MEMELA: I dreamed of Mrs. Stover. I saw her once at parents’ day—Now I hear her from the next world—

WOLF: This place is haunted.  How can I stay here?  

MEMELA: Should I write down what she said?  Should I teach it in class?—Forgiveness comes through understanding the ones who harmed you.

WOLFERT: Send Muffler and Tail Pipe, Phoebe—to chase away the dark spirits that bother Wolf.  Let him see them run. He hardly mentions your name— but he knows you’re here.

MEMELA: Has Mrs. Stover been floating over our house, watching us, studying our sorrows so she could let go of her anger?  Is that what she has to do to continue her journey?

WOLF: I’m held with four-point barbed wire. GET ME OUT OF HERE, DAD!!  Sing me to the next world with your drum.

MEMELA: I hear Mrs. Stover choking on the stones of forgiveness.  I am choking too. 

WOLFERT: Phoebe—Is it you?—Is it something else? 

MEMELA: Is that old car in the salvage yard in a different place each time I look?  Is someone moving it? Or am I’m imagining it—

WOLFERT: Who knows the mystery of what we see?


(He beats a drum he made from an air-filter)


(Black out)