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Brutal lessons, old and new, converge in ‘Manahatta’

Brutal lessons, old and new, converge in ‘Manahatta’

When Jane Snake — a young Lenape woman with a master’s in business administration — leaves her Delaware Nation home in Anadarko, Oklahoma, to work for investment bankers on Wall Street, she reconnects with her ancestral land, Manahatta, which means “island of many hills” in her native language.

As she climbs the corporate ladder just before the financial crisis of 2008, Jane also struggles to reconcile her new life with the expectations and traditions of a family she left behind.

In her play, “Manahatta,” Mary Kathryn Nagle explores an equidistant parallel between a world of high finance on the verge of collapse in the 21st century and the heartbreaking history of how Lenape people were forced from their land in the 17th century.

“The play mirrors the loss in the past when the Dutch purchased the entire island of Manahatta for $24, then taxed the Lenape and killed them when they refused to pay, basically forcibly removing them from their homes,” says Nagle in a video at osfashland.org.

“Manahatta” previews at 1:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, March 30 and 31, opens at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, April 1, and runs through Oct. 27 in the Thomas Theatre on the Oregon Shakespeare Festival campus, 15 S. Pioneer St., Ashland. Other show times, tickets and information are available at osfashland.org or by calling 800-219-8161.

Prefaces — interactive, in-depth introductions — to “Manahatta” will be offered at noon Saturdays, March 31 and April 7, 21 and 28, at Carpenter Hall. Tickets are $12, $8 for age 6-17, and can be purchased online or by calling the box office.

When Nagle, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation and a partner at Pipestem Law, a firm dedicated to the restoration and preservation of tribal sovereignty and jurisdiction, wrote her play, she was working at a corporate litigation firm that represented many entities suing banks, she says.

The 2007-09 recession in the U.S. was triggered by the collapse of a housing bubble and led to mortgage delinquencies and foreclosures, putting thousands of Americans out of their homes.

“I read books like ‘Too Big to Fail’ and books about the housing crisis,” Nagle says. “At the same time, I had a lot of friends in the Occupy Wall Street protest movement.”

Some of her friends were interested in writing plays about Wall Street, but none could tell her how the New York City financial district came to be named Wall Street, she says.

“It’s called Wall Street because it’s named after a wall the Dutch built in 1654 to keep the Lenape out of their homeland,” Nagle says. “If the Occupy Wall Street movement was going to criticize an American institution for taking people’s homes, then it had to understand the way it was conceived to take indigenous homes 400 years ago.

“We have a lot to learn from our indigenous brothers and sisters,” she says. “Wherever we are there is a story about what happened on that piece of land, and most of those stories in the U.S. have been silenced. Once we start sharing those stories, I think we will see a cultural shift.”

Descendants of the Lenape live today in various parts of the United States and Canada.

“Premiering ‘Manahatta’ at OSF is a dream come true, and a true homecoming,” Nagle says in an OSF press release. “After developing this play for years, it’s found a home full of artists who’ve taken it to its highest potential. This play defies the myth that native stories are irrelevant to today or exist only in the past. In ‘Manahatta,’ we see stories surrounding the survival of Tribal Nations that offer Americans the guidance we so desperately need to address some of the most pressing crises we now collectively face.”

Laurie Woolery directs the show. The cast features Tanis Parenteau as Jane/Le-le-wa’-you; Rainbow Dickerson as Debra/Toosh-ki-pa-kwis-i; Sheila Tousey as Bobbie/Mother; Steven Flores as Luke/Se-ket-tu-may-qua; Jeffrey King as Dick/Peter Minuit; Danforth Comins as Joe/Jakob; and David Kelly as Michael/Jonas Michaelius.

Scenic design is by Mariana Sanchez; costume design is by E.B. Brooks; and lighting is by James F. Ingalls. Paul James Prendergast is composer and sound designer; Mark Holthusen is projection designer; Elizabeth Frankel and Leslie Ishii are dramaturgs; and Rebecca Clark Carey is voice and text director. Ty Defoe is movement director; U. Jonathan Toppo is fight director; and Curtis Zunigha is Lenape consultant.

A sign-interpreted performance is set for 8 p.m. Saturday, May 26. Tickets for this performance are available by calling the box office or emailing boxoffice@osfashland.org. These tickets are not available online. Information about additional accessibility is at osfashland.org/accessibility.

“Manahatta” is one of three plays by indigenous women on Oregon stages this year. “The Thanksgiving Play,” by Larissa FastHorse (Sicangu Lakota), will be presented April 1-29 at Artists Repertory Theatre in Portland, and “And So We Walked,” written and performed by DeLanna Studi (Cherokee), will be presented March 31 through May 13 at Portland Center Stage at The Armory.

The three playwrights will participate in a series of panel discussions around Portland in April:

“Social Justice: Telling Native Stories to Re-humanize Native People,” moderated by Jacqueline Keller, will be presented by Advance Gender Equity in the Arts at 2 p.m. Monday, April 9, at the Old Church Concert Hall, 1142 S.W. 11th Ave.

“Responsibility to Represent,” moderated by Alyssa Macy (Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs), will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Monday, April 9, by Artists Repertory Theatre at the Native American Youth and Family Center, 5135 N.E. Columbia Blvd.

“Women on Stage,” moderated by Cynthia Furhman, will explore native women’s voices in the national theater movement and be presented at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 10, at Portland Center Stage at The Armory, 128 N.W. 11th Ave.

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