This past spring the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation (NACF) supported three panel discussions with three Native female playwrights – all presenting their work on Oregon’s top stages – including Larissa FastHorse (Sicangu Lakota), DeLanna Studi (Cherokee) and Mary Kathryn Nagle (Cherokee). The panels presented in partnership with Advance Gender Equity in the Arts, NAYA Family Center, and The Armory focused on social justice issues and reclaiming the narrative of Native people through theater. The NACF staff recently attended one of the plays, a performance of Manahatta written by Mary Kathryn Nagle, currently on stage at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival through October 27. Nagle’s story of the Lenape – both past and present – emerged much like traditional Native storytelling, formed in the given moment and relevant to contemporary Native issues.
Manahatta tells parallel stories of two indigenous families that span across more than four centuries while brilliantly weaving colonization and modern-day history. Playwright Mary Kathryn Nagle pulls from her own experience as a corporate litigation lawyer during the 2008 financial crisis to illustrate the plight of her main character, Jane Snake, a Delaware Nation Stanford graduate who takes a job on Wall Street at Lehman Brothers.
The plot flows seamlessly back and forth between a Lenape family forced to leave their land after the Purchase of Manhattan by the Dutch in 1654 and the family of Jane Snake, who is forced into refinancing their home under unfavorable terms after the death of Jane’s father while she deals with the challenges of the mortgage crisis on the financial institution side.
The common threads in the interwoven storylines shed light on the elements of greed, loss and displacement that permeate these two seemingly unrelated periods in history. By brilliantly superimposing multiple angles of the same story Manahatta forces the audience to connect dots and creates a narrative of empathy that make it a very powerful play.
Manahatta is playing through October 27 at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland.
Mary Kathryn Nagle was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. She graduated summa cum laude from Tulane Law School where she was the recipient of the Judge John Minor Wisdom Award. She is a partner at Pipestem Law P.C., a firm specializing in the restoration of tribal sovereignty and safety for Native women. Her play Manahatta will be produced in Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s 2018 season, and her play Sovereignty will be produced in Arena Stage’s 2017-2018 Season. Other recent productions include AMERINDA’s presentation of Miss Lead at 59e59 from January 13-26, 2014 and Native Voices at the Autry’s production of Fairly Traceable in March 2017. Nagle is an alum of the 2013 Emerging Writers Group at the Public Theater, and an alum of the Civilians 2014 Research & Development Group. Nagle is the Executive Director of the Yale Indigenous Performing Arts Program, a program designed to develop Native voices in the American theater and ensure that Native plays reach the American stage.