Mary Kathryn Nagle‘s play Crossing Mnisose enjoyed its world premiere at Portland Center Stage at the Armory’s Main Stage on Friday, April 19. Commissioned by PCS for its Northwest Stories series, the play offers a sweeping look at our prairies and the people who occupied them in the early 1800s and today.
It consists of parallel stories of exploitation then and now, a seemingly unbroken circle of how people are used and abused by the greedy and powerful. More than that, it is stories of the feminist leaders of Native people, starting with Sacajawea.
Lewis and Clark’s Voyage of Discovery, carried out when Thomas Jefferson was President, is a great story in our country’s history. The party managed to reach the Pacific Ocean, with help from indigenous people, particularly their teenage guide Sacajawea (Nathalie Standingcloud). The Native view of Lewis and Clark’s party, particularly in light of its devastating aftermath, is not nearly so laudatory. Merriweather Lewis (Nick Ferrucci) and Captain Clark (Chris Murray) are portrayed as we have never seen them. More so is Charbonneau (Gavin Hoffman), who abuses his wives Otter Woman (Sera-Lys McArthur) and Sacajawea. The introduction of Coyote (Robert I. Mesa) adds further dimension to this portion of the play.
In Act II, the audience is taken to Standing Rock, where Native tribes and their supporters protest the building of the Dakota Access Pipeline through their land. Teenage Carey (Nathalie Standingcloud) goes to the protest site. Her mom Rose (Sera-Lys McArthur), meanwhile, encounters Carl (Gavin Hoffman), a fixer for the pipeline folks. History has ways of repeating itself.
The dream of a set (Todd Rosenthal and crew) encompasses the broad swath that is the Dakotas, with open sky, tall prairie grasses, outcroppings, and always the river flowing above us and onstage. Costumes are by Alison Heryer, lighting by Sarah Hughey, and original music and sound design by Roc Lee.
Outstanding in the production is the script itself–clever, biting, intelligent, and timely–and its inspiring message. Says director Molly Smith, “…writers like Mary Kathryn Nagle are telling Sacajawea’s story from a Native American point of view, and we are rocked by Mary Kathryn’s perspective. The fight for the Missouri (Mnisose) River is past and present in our play…the present story is informed by the bloodlines of the past.”
Crossing Mnisose runs through May 5 at Portland Center Stage, and is appropriate for ages 12 and up.