Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Sovereignty at Arena Stage

I saw a preview of "Sovereignty" at Arena Stage.  I felt it started a bit slow, but then picked up pace once it had done a good amount of explaining so on balance, was great.  I learned things, I laughed, I teared up, and I finished feeling mad and hopeful.  
The playwright for "Sovereignty" is a tribally enrolled lawyer, and it operates along two timelines, a present to future one, and one in the 1800's, both surrounding court cases - one that has happened and one that likely will happen.  The 1800's timeline looks at the legal fight between the Cherokee nation and the state of Georgia as Georgia essentially tried to make things uncomfortable enough for the Cherokee to leave.  The current to future timeline looks at where things are now.  Worcester v. Georgia was decided by the Supreme Court in favor of the Cherokee Nation having sovereignty over reservation land. But the Cherokee were still forced out of Georgia, and a subsequent case decided that reservations did not have legal jurisdiction over non-tribe members who commit crimes on reservation land.  This was loophole was addressed in the most recent version of the Violence Against Women Act, but it still creates some legal grey.  All of this sounds very lawyerly, the play has several characters of a legal bent, but makes great use of the characters to demonstrate the actual effects of these laws.  Members of the Ridge family exist in both timelines, both worried about how to live and love and protect their families. It's a tough play, a lot of folks end up dead and/or injured.  But there were light moments too.  There are eight cast members, so most everyone plays at least two characters and as the play progresses the timelines overlap more swiftly, until one moment where one character, turns around and switches roles onstage.  (I heard some fellow audience members who thought that was an error, it read as entirely intentional to me although I did know exactly which scene they meant.) 
The set design was amazing, and the play tackles themes of how much and when to fight which turns out to be incredibly relevant right now.