It’s become a custom in many theaters these days to begin shows with a land acknowledgement, noting that Manhattan (for instance) was once occupied by the Lenape people, who were violently displaced by English-American colonists hundreds of years ago. Now, the Mohegan theater-maker Madeline Sayet offers a full evening to acknowledge people’s whose history and culture have long been displaced from the mainstream.
“Where We Belong,” which opened Wednesday at the Public Theater, serves as a kind of extended TED talk — an engaging exploration of an undercovered topic from a very personal lens. And Sayet, a half-Jewish, half-Mohegan theater-maker from Connecticut, is the perfect vessel to offer instruction to the NPR set.
Here is a woman who embraces her mother’s Mohegan heritage, while also being the kind of suburban theater geek who thrilled to pursue a Ph.D in Shakespeare in England in the mid-2010s. And she conveys the tug of both traditions in her engaging monologue, offering sharp observations about Mohegan culture as well as the Shakespearean tradition — and its treatment of the “savage” in characters like Caliban in “The Tempest.”
“Have you ever noticed the only characters who refer to him as a monster are the ones trying to sell him?” she observes, before concluding, “Caliban is no monster. He’s indigenous. He’s me.” She makes a strong case for the Bard’s anti-colonial bias — and for halting the long tradition of casting white actors in indigenous roles on stage and screen.
She also finds personaly connections with historic Native Americans who also strayed far from their homeland seeking negotiation and accommodation from powerful people overseas. There was the Mohegan chief Mahomet Weyonomon, who went to England seeking justice for his people from the Crown but wound up dying before getting an audience. Or Samson Occom, a Mohegan who converts to Christianity and preaches across England to raise funds for a college to educative Native Americans (which would become Dartmouth).
Sayet is an engaging and restrained storyteller, fully in command of the stage for the full 80-minute running time — and aided by Hao Bai’s simple but dramatic set design and Erik Schulke’s understated sound design. Mei Ann Teo directs.
Read my full review at TheWrap.