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MANAHATTA (2019)

“Manahatta”

Yale Repertory Theatre

            Yale Repertory Theatre is currently presenting the East Coast premiere of Mary Kathryn Nagle’s fascinating play, “Manahatta,” in an extremely engaging production.  The name, Manahatta, actually means “island of many hills” in Lenape and it is an early name of what eventually became Manhattan.  Interestingly, the play takes place in two different time periods, the world of the 1600s, when the Lenape people had their land violently taken away by Dutch settlers, and Wall Street in the present day, focusing on the character of Jane Snake, a member of a Lenape family who otherwise resides in Oklahoma.  As skillfully directed by Laurie Woolery, these two worlds often overlap, to stunning effect.

It also helps that “Manahatta” contains an excellent group of actors, who all play dual roles, and they work like a finely tuned ensemble.  What’s more, Mariana Sanchez’s expertly designed set contains elements of both time periods, so one can see a desk in an office on Wall Street placed side-by-side with rocks used by the Lenape people in the 1600s.  If this sounds confusing, everything is crystal clear in the production, with especially splendid costume design by Stephanie Bahniuk, which stays as authentic as possible to the original clothing of the Lenape people.  It is encouraged that you take a trip to see “Manahatta” at Yale Repertory Theatre to take in the sights and sounds of this artfully constructed play and production.

When the show begins, the focus is on the character of Jane Snake (the terrific Lily Gladstone), who is interviewing for a job on Wall Street at the same time her father is having heart surgery in Oklahoma.  Without giving too much away, Jane is part of a Lenape family, who, during the course of the play, must struggle to keep their house in Oklahoma, which eventually becomes over-mortgaged and on the verge of foreclosure.  As Jane’s mother, Bobbie, Carla-Rae is quite amazing, with equally good work by Shyla Lefner, as Jane’s sister Debra.  And just as these actors play parts in the present day, they also co-exist as characters from the 1600s.  The way the performers slip in and out of the two different worlds is smoothly handled and is quite extraordinary.

Indeed, the entire company of actors all work on the same high level.  Especially standing out, though, is the awesome Steven Flores, who completely embodies his two parts in the show and is quite a formidable presence onstage.  Playing both Wall Street high-rollers, as well as Dutch settlers, Danforth Comins and Jeffrey King are extremely good, and, like their fellow actors, manage to straddle the dual time periods flawlessly.  Finally, the sympathetic T. Ryder Smith makes his own impression in the show, notably as Michael, who attempts to work with Bobbie in trying to let her keep her family house in Oklahoma.

“Manahatta” is an ambitious achievement, with magnificent lighting design by Emma Deane and the projection design by Mark Holthusen is similarly striking.  Paul James Prendergast also excels as both the sound designer and the composer of the frequently hypnotic music in the show.  Director Laurie Woolery keeps the action onstage moving at a good pace, though she also allows for many tender moments in both time periods portrayed in the play.

A word must also be said about Joe Baker, as the Lenape Cultural Consultant, and Louis Colaianni, as the vocal and dialect coach.  Everything about “Manahatta” feels period perfect and true to the Lenape people in the show.  Such attention to detail makes this show an especially memorable experience and it should be mentioned that there is also a great deal of lively humor in the play, as well.  It is stated by one of the characters in the show that that the Lenape people in the present day must stay true to their ancestors and occupy “two worlds” equally.  Yale Repertory Theatre’s illuminating production of “Manahatta” manages to accomplish this goal completely and effectively and is, thus, most highly recommended.

“Manahatta” runs through February 15, 2020 at Yale Repertory Theatre, 1120 Chapel Street, New Haven CT.  For tickets and more information, please visit www.yalerep.org or call the box office at 203-432-1234.

Photo: Steven Flores and Lily Gladstone

Photo by Joan Marcus

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