Playwright Mary Kathryn Nagle is uniquely qualified to speak to the traditions and history of Native Americans and the inhuman treatment so many suffered as a result of foreign invaders. As an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation and an attorney working to help her people, she is the first Native playwright to have her work presented on the Yale Repertory Theatre stage for its east coast premiere. Her new play “Manahatta” takes place in the past and the present simultaneously and switches time periods seamlessly while making its message of less than human treatment painfully obvious. The invaders from afar took the land and the lives, stealing all their possessions and natural resources along the way.
New Haven’s Yale Repertory Theatre will painfully and poignantly explore their plight until Saturday, February 15, focusing on the island of Manhattan and the tribe’s displacement in Oklahoma. The past and present, and even the future, of the Lenape tribe of the Delaware nation are central to this history that is rife to correct myths and inconsistencies, change the narrative and end the silence.
Time travels from the initial contacts between the Lenape four hundred years ago and the Dutch East India Company and Governor Peter Minuit (Jeffrey King) who traded wampum for furs. Once he realized the value of Manahatta, he tricked the Native Americans into giving up their home for a bag of trinkets, like guns, kettles and axes, worth $24, in 1626. Manahatta is the Lenape word for “many hills.”
Fast forward to present day and witness an unscrupulous banker (T, Ryder Smith) convince Mother (Carla-Rae) to mortgage her home to pay the hospital bills for her husband, only to lose it when the payments raced out of control. Her daughters Debra (Shyla Lefner) and Jane (Lily Gladstone) are unaware of their mother’s financial decision until it is too late to stop it. Ironically Jane works on Wall Street as a trader and is central to the mortgage crisis in 2008 that causes millions to lose their homes, much like her own mother. She now works at the investment firm on land which her ancestors once called home.
All the actors move effortlessly back and forth in time, as the Lenape and their enemies in the past and the present, including Danforth Comins and Steven Flores. who help portray both the Natives and the newcomers.
This glide across generations does not disguise the fact that the Lenape are cheated of their land again and again. Laurie Woolery directs this impassioned look at history and our disturbing view at the peoples who settled this nation at first break of day and our treatment of them.
For tickets ($25-79), call the Yale Rep, 1120 Chapel Street, New Haven at 203-432-1234 or online at www. yale.rep.org. Performances are Tuesday to Saturday at 8 p.m., with matinees at 2 pm. Saturday and Wednesday, February 5.
Let Mary Kathryn Nagle be your guide through one of our nation’s less than admirable periods of history, one that is subject to scrutiny and correction.