October 08, 2019 Review of Marin Theater Company’s ‘Sovereignty’ October 08, 2019/ Marin Theatre Company / Ronnie Sharpe ‘Sovereignty’ packs a powerful punch. This partly autobiographical depiction of the Cherokee battle for land and legal rights, from the 1830’s to the present day, fuels an urgent and extremely moving story and reveals a chapter in American history so repressed and shame filled, that many of us have never been exposed to the truth.In the words of the playwright, Mary Kathryn Nagle, ‘As a lawyer, and as a direct descendant of a survivor of genocide, I have committed my life’s work to eradicating the harmful stereotypes and false stories this Nation created to justify the “legal” extermination of my people.’What a provocative and socially responsible way to open Marin Theater Company’s new season. I urge you to go and see it. Directed by Jason Minadakis, it was in every way a passionate production, engagingly staged, convincingly performed and highly educational. The play weaves together two stories, a contemporary one, and an autobiographical historical one. The historical story concerns the lawyer’s, (and playwright’s), direct Cherokee forebears, father and son, Major and John Ridge, and their fight to keep and exercise legal jurisdiction over Cherokee ancestral land when, in 1832, the state of Georgia was in danger of eradicating it. Even though they won a Supreme Court Ruling granting them full legal jurisdiction over their land, it was never upheld. This led to them authorizing a treaty which permitted what turned out to be a brutal relocation of the Cherokee to Oklahoma, known as The Trail of Tears. In the contemporary story, Sarah Ridge Polson, who like the playwright, is herself a ‘Ridge’ descendant, returns home to Oklahoma to become a tribal lawyer for her descendants, the Cherokee people. We see how she is personally affected by domestic violence but is legally bound from seeking effective protection or justice, due to the 1978 Violence Against Women Act - a US Supreme Court ruling which prevents Tribal Nations from exercising legal jurisdiction over non Indians who commit crimes on tribal lands. It has allowed for a massive increase of violent illegal acts against Native American women, with no repercussions for perpetrators. It is a ruling that directly contradicts John Ridge’s hard won 1832 Supreme Court ruling, that was never upheld. The modern day Sarah Ridge Polson has to defend herself, not only from marital violence, but also from the shadow of her forebears actions, before her current day boss. She is a kick ass Native American woman, suffering due to legal apathy on behalf of the US Government and also seeking resolution from her own people, for their misunderstanding of the actions of her Ridge forefathers, who were acting in their tribe’s best interests, in the face of enormous federal indifference and looming tribal eradication.We are propelled, expertly, and seamlessly through this vast panoply of events and introduced to the various characters involved, with a faultless cast of nine, sometimes doubling up in parts. Many of them are Native American actors themselves. Elizabeth Frances is easy to empathize with as Sarah Ridge Polson, and Craig Marker plays an adept aggressor, both as Ben O’Connor, and as the uncooperative President Jackson. Unobtrusive sets, great transitional lighting and authentic costumes enhance the story. A play that explores the writer’s heritage in this way feels to me like a message from across time. One of concealed and repressed injustice that is begging to be exposed in the form of this story. A question and answer session after the play, with the artistic producer and some of the actors revealed a passion to promote the Native American voice. Robert I Mesa, who plays John Ridge, spoke about personally knowing women who have gone missing on his reservation in New Mexico, and how, due to the lack of jurisdiction granted to the Tribal Courts over crimes by non Indians, no justice can be served and no media coverage is given. Marin Theater is handing the microphone to an often deliberately silenced minority. The Native research consortium IllumNative found that 87% of K-12 textbooks don’t include any mention of American Indians after 1900. The playwright Mary Kathryn Nagle says, ‘It is not a coincidence that most theater companies in the US have never produced a play by a Native playwright. In fact most American audiences are more likely to see a performance of ‘redface’ on stage than a Native character, written by a Native playwright. I ask “what is the consequence of that? What does it mean that Americans live on land that once belonged to a Tribal Nation but have never heard a story written by a citizen of the government Americans once sought to erase?”’ ‘Sovereignty’ casts much needed light into a shamefully neglected area of American historical and political inequity and urges us to wake up to injustice. I came away fired up and impressed. We are beyond fortunate to have Marin Theater Company serve as a beacon of socially responsible theater in our community. Come and get entertained and informed. A great way to start the new season. Bring it on! marintheatre.org | 415.388.5208 | @marintheatreco | #marinthtr | #mtc52Review by Hannah Yurke.