Regional Reviews: Connecticut and the Berkshires
It is 2007 and Jane Snake (Lily Gladstone) snares a Wall Street job offered her by Joe (Danforth Comins). From Oklahoma, Jane, whose father recently passed away, abandons her mother Bobbie (Carla-Rae). We learn that the native tribe, a few centuries before, lost its base in Manahatta to traders from Amsterdam led by Peter Minuit (Jeffrey King).
Through its one hour and forty-five minutes, Manahatta demonstrates the odds Native people have faced. Jane works at Lehman Brothers and disaster is imminent. The lure of quick riches is undeniable.
All actors are playing multiple roles in this show, with each contemporary character also playing a character in the past. For example, Jane is also Le-le-wa'-you. In that capacity, she startles the Dutch during the 1600s, with her computational skills and ability to grasp English. Costumer Stephanie Bahniuk places a shawl-like cape over actress Gladstone's shoulders, with her contemporary dress (the presentation moves backward and forward in time so swiftly) is beneath.
The combination of Mariana Sanchez's lovely set, Mark Holthusen's projections, and Emma Deane's lighting enables instantaneous movement from one era to the other. The Lenape's Se-ket-tu-may-qua appears, through imagery, behind the actors as they perform. The audience can observe people who lost a foothold in North America several centuries back. The current family, left with unpaid bills and a mortgage payment threat, must grapple to survive in Oklahoma. Jane's ancestry is of a revered and precious culture, and she is hoping for something better for herself within the male dominated, corporate world of lower Manhattan. That, she discovers, is cutthroat commercialism.
Playwright Nagle has stated that the word Manhattan is a derivative of Lenape's "island of many hills." She is a member of the Cherokee Nation, writing with authenticity. Realizing that Lenape people today are not in one geographic locale, she has centered on Oklahoma.
The play is also about strong women. Jane leaves not only her mother Bobbie (Carla-Rae) behind but also sister Debra (Shyla Lefner). All three women are soulful and each inspires. Jane's trajectory brings her to New York while her older sibling remains at home to support Bobbie.
The quality of performance in Manahatta definitely impresses. it is essential for actors to gracefully flip from one persona to another. Jeffrey King, cast as both Minuit and as Lehman's Dick Fuld, excels. The men of the production include T. Ryder Smith (Michael and Jonas Michaelius), Danforth Comins (Joe and Jakob), and Steven Flores (Luke and Se-ket-tu-may-qua). All are commendably versatile. The women, however, are profoundly indelible. Their situations are multi-faceted and each finds obstacles which might jeopardize survival. Ultimately, it is impossible not to sympathize with these female characters.
Director Laurie Woolery must accommodate as the show, sometimes through composer Paul James Prendergast's interesting music, snaps from one century to the other. Ty Defoe, movement director, has an important influence as the actors adapt.
It is all a great deal to take in. Both the creative team and responding actors pull this relevant and significant production together. Engrossing from the outset, it is something of a challenge, at first, to follow, but that eases as both past and present are cleanly depicted.
Manahatta runs through February 15, 2020, at Yale Repertory Theatre, 1120 Chapel St., New Haven CT. For tickets, call 203-432-1234 or visit yalerep.org.