In Play Reviews

When playwright Madeline Sayet told her mother she was moving to London to pursue her PhD. in Shakespeare, her mother wasn’t pleased. Sayet, a nice Connecticut girl, is a member of the Mohegan tribe. Why the heck would she want to go somewhere else when she had plenty to study in her own culture–a culture that suffered terribly at the hands of colonists (many British) who arrived on this continent and ran the Mohegans off their own land faster than ink could dry on a treaty?

Jessica Ranville as Achokayis in Where We Belong. Jingzi Zhao photo.

Sayet even has her own Mohegan name, Achokayis. Her mother is a Medicine Woman. Why, indeed?

In the Wooly Mammoth Theatre Company production of Where We Belong, Portland Center Stage presents an intimate and moving journey of discovery that follows Achokayis (Jessica Ranville) on the trail of life that carries her home.

“In Mohegan culture, we have a symbol, the Trail of Life, that depicts the ups and downs of life, and the people you meet along the way,” says the playwright. This production, directed by Mei Ann Teo, depicts Sayet’s complicated relationship with Shakespeare and the language of the Bard, and her own Native language.

“Shakespeare makes me normal,” says Achokayis. Her studies allowed her to immerse in the language and tradition of another culture, one that is vibrant and alive today, whereas the Mohegan, a victim of history, is less so. In England, Achokayis discovers a significant remnant of her ancestry. And, over the course of the play, she at last is able to vocalize where she belongs and why.

Jessica Ranville. Photo by Jingzi Zhao.

Where We Belong could be a sad tale, but it’s not. In reckoning with the fraught history of indigenous people and her own journey, Sayet projects voice of hope, and even whimsy. It’s a short, sweet production that offers the audience compelling arguments about where we all belong. And why.

Where We Belong features production design by Hao Bai, costume design by Asa Benally, original composition and sound design by Erik Schilke, dramaturgy by Vera Starbard, dialect coaching by Liz Hayes, and casting by Judy Bowman. The tour is stage-managed by Alison McLeod, with technical direction by Megan J. Coffel and makeup consulting by Dawn Newsome. Broadway & Beyond Theatricals serves as Executive Producer and booking agent.

Where We Belong runs on the U.S. Bank Main Stage at Portland Center Stage at the Armory. Tickets are available here.

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