Sovereignty a story that needs telling at Marin Theatre

The signing of the Treaty of New Echota (L-R: Elizabeth Frances, Adam Magill, Kholan Studi, Scott Coopwood, Andrew Roa, Robert I. Mesa). Photo Kevin Berne

SOVEREIGNTY: Drama by Mary Kathryn Nagle. Directed by Jasson Minadakis. Marin Theatre Company (MTC), Boyer Theatre 397 Mill Avenue, Mill Valley, CA, 415-388-5208 or September 26 – October 20, 2019.

Sovereignty a story that needs telling at Marin Theatre. Rating: ★★★★☆

The horrendous treatment of Native Americans by the white invaders of what is now the United States is documented in oral and written histories that should be told and re-told. Mary Kathryrn Nagle who is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation and a lawyer as well as a playwright, has taken up the cudgel for the Cherokee nation. In doing so she has created a powerful play that is being given a fascinating but ambivalent production at Marin Theatre yet earns a solid “should see rating.”

The ambivalence is due to the plays construction with future and present day scenes juxtaposed with historical ones and six of the 10 member cast playing dual roles. It requires close attention and the actors are mostly exemplary with standout individual performances.

It play begins with Sarah Ridge Polson (Elizabeth Frances), a direct descendant of John Ridge, the Cherokee leader who signed the Treaty of New Echota that divided the Cherokee tribe/nation that eventually lead to the Trail of Tears when they were forcefully sent to Oklahoma. As a nation they theoretically had sovereignty setting up their own government and laws. However the States only partially recognized that sovereignty and did not allow the tribe to bring to justice white people who committed crimes on tribal land.

After an introductory “future” scene the play begins with a crime being committed by a white man in a tribal casino and the arresting officer is Waite Polson (Kholan Studi), Sarah’s brother. With this encounter Sarah meets white Ben O’Conner and in a charming scene he arranges to meet in front of her Great Grandfather’s grave where he proposes. The drunken white offender is allowed to be free since he cannot be tried in a Cherokee court.

Sarah Ridge Polson and Jim Ross (Jack Waid) tribal District Attorney are preparing briefs to appear before the U.S. Supreme Court to change the inequities and gain further support for the 1994 Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) to protect the tribal women. Elizabeth Frances as Sarah Ridge Polson gives a superb monologue of that brief at the end of the play by stepping forward to the audience thus ending on hopeful note.

Before that happens Sarah in flashbacks meets her ancestors, the Ridges, who signed the 1835 Treaty of New Echota giving Andrew Jackson reason to force the relocation to Oklahoma. There are two Sarahs in the script. The first being Sarah Bird Northrup (Ella Dershowitz) who in the 1800s married John Ridge, son of Major Ridge (Andrew Roa),  creating a local crisis among the whites. Elias Boudinot believed that removal was inevitable. He and other supporters signed the Treaty of New Echota in 1835, but it was not signed by John Ross, the Principal Chief, who was opposed by most of the tribe.

The schism between the two factions is clearly defined with Georgia expanding into Cherokee sovereign land while many “Accepted” the exodus from sovereign tribal leading to the Trail of Tears to Oklahoma. A faction remained behind.

Nagle creates two scenes buttressing support for VAWA and confirming the legal injustice when the perpetrator, Ben O’Conner goes free.

 Along with Elizabeth Frances whio is a Native American, MTC has brought in four other native American actors ( Robert I. Mesa, Andrew Roa, Kholan Studi and Jake Waid) to add verisimilitude to the staging that is adroitly directed by Minadakis allowing the historical events and relationships between characters to be understoodwhile demanding attention.

They have elected to use a bare-bones set that is easily reconfigured by the cast allowing the action to flow. Running Time: Two hours including one intermission.

CAST: Scott Coopwood as White Chorus Man; Ella Dershowitz as Sarah Bird Northrup / Flora Ridge; Elizabeth Frances as Sarah Ridge Polson; Adam Magill as Samuel Worcester / Mitch; Craig Marker as Andrew Jackson / Ben; Robert I Mesa as John Ridge; Andrew Roa as Major Ridge / Roger Ridge Polson; Kholan Studi as Elias Boudinot / Watie; Jake Wald as John Ross / Jim Ross.

CREATIVE TEAM: Jasson Minadakis Director; Brenda Toineeta Pipestem Cultural Consultant; Annie Smart Scenic Designer; E.B. Brooks Costume Designer; Danny Osburn Lighting Designer; Sara Huddleston Sound Designer; Mike Post Projection Designer; Cirby Hatano Rehearsal Stage Manager; Kimily Conkle Dialect Coach; Laura A. Brueckner Literary Manager & Resident Dramaturg; Trevor Scott Floyd Artistic Producer; Aollonia Production Assistant; Goñi Montes Graphic Illustrator (promotional artwork).

Kedar K. Adour, MD

Courtesy of

Photo credit: Kevin Berne

The signing of the Treaty of New Echota (L-R: Elizabeth Frances, Adam Magill, Kholan Studi, Scott Coopwood, Andrew Roa, Robert I. Mesa).