Sunday, October 13, 2019

The Enduring Fight for Identity

Sovereignty


Sarah Ridge Polson (Elizabeth Frances)

by Mary Kathryn Nagle
Directed by Jasson Minadakis
Marin Theatre Company

Until Sunday, October 20, 2019

By Christine Okon

Sovereignty,” termed a “documentary play,” is about how great wrongs done to a people--in this case, the Cherokee Nation--cause suffering that continues to be endured by many subsequent generations. Without doubt, it presents an important lesson about Native American history that is diminished in traditional American history books, and those who see it will be enlightened indeed. As a dramatic play, though, “Sovereignty” lags between drama and lesson, caught in the back-and-forth “A-B roll” staging that makes it hard to sustain empathetic continuity with the characters. Still, the very nature of the topic is compelling.

Major Ridge (Andrew Roa) meets with President Andrew Jackson (Craig Marker)

Present-day lawyer Sarah Ridge Polson (a dynamic and passionate Elizabeth Frances) tasks herself with understanding the role her forefathers played in the numerous treaties between Native tribes and the United States in the 1830s. The Cherokee Nation, in several attempts to negotiate with a new American nation headed by Andrew Jackson, hell-bent on westward expansion, ultimately lost their sovereignty, land, and rights that led to the “Trail of Tears.” The long-term result is the fragmentation of Native American tribal cultures, life, and identity that has persisted in devastating repercussions over generations.

The signing of the Treaty of New Echota (L-R: Elizabeth Frances, Adam Magill, Kholan Studi, Scott Coopwood, Andrew Roa, Robert I. Mesa).

Sarah renews the fight to preserve jurisdiction over people committing crimes on Cherokee land, specifically rape, echoing the struggles of her great-great-great-great grandfather Major Ridge (Andrew Roa) who was murdered for signing the 1835 Treaty of Echota in a failed attempt to bargain with the US government to preserve Cherokee sovereignty. When Sarah is violated by her jealous fiance Ben (Craig Marker, who also plays Andrew Jackson), the reality of inadequate legal protection hits home. A fine, diverse cast of actors, aptly directed by Jasson Minadakis, assumes double roles representing characters from the parallel lines of present and past, and it would have been interesting to have Sarah directly engage with individual ancestors as members of the Cherokee diaspora. A moving scene where Sarah’s grandfather (Andrew Roa) speaks to her infant is an example of powerful cross-generational interaction.

As always, MTC provides extensive, well-researched background information in the lobby and in numerous live-panel discussions about the wider scope and impact of the play. If you would like to learn about the current and past dilemmas of Native American tribes, “Sovereignty” will be well worth your time.

"Sovereignty" by Mary Kathryn Nagle, directed by Jasson Minadakis, Marin Theatre Company, Mill Valley, through October 20, 2019. Info: marintheatre.org

Photos by Kevin Berne

CAST
Scott Coopwood* White Chorus Man
Ella Dershowitz*  Sarah Bird Northrup / Flora Ridge
Elizabeth Frances* Sarah Polson
Adam Magill* Samuel Worcester / Mitch
Craig Marker* Andrew Jackson / Ben
Robert I Mesa* John Ridge
Andrew Roa* Major Ridge / Roger Ridge Polson           
Kholan Studi* Elias Boudinot / Watie
Jake Waid* John Ross / Jim Ross
* Member of Actor's Equity Association

CREATIVE TEAM
Mary Kathryn Nagle Playwright
Jasson Minadakis Director
Brenda Pipestem  Cultural Consultant
Annie Smart+ Scenic Designer
E.B. Brooks+ Costume Designer
Danny Osburn  Lighting Designer
Sara Huddleston Sound Designer
Mike Post  Projection Designer
​Laura A. Brueckner Literary Manager & Resident Dramaturg

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