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.
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.