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Review: MANAHATTA at Oregon Shakespeare Festival

The world premiere production of Mary Kathryn Nagle’s masterpiece is available through April 24.

Review: MANAHATTA at Oregon Shakespeare Festival

Every time I'm about to write off digital theatre as a poor approximation of the real thing, I see a show that reminds me that great theatre can transcend the medium. Most recently, that show was MANAHATTA, Mary Kathryn Nagle's masterpiece about how prioritizing money over people has gotten us as a country to where we are today. The production, which is the first full-length digital offering from Oregon Shakespeare Festival's, is a recording made during the 2018 world premiere run.

MANAHATTA superimposes the 17th century "purchase" of Manahatta (known today as Manhattan) by the Dutch East India Company from the Lenape people with the financial crisis of 2008, in which many people lost their homes as a result of predatory lending practices. The quotation marks are because the Lenape people, who were present-day Manhattan's first residents, did not have the same ideas of land ownership we have today. In the play, they're tricked into "selling" their land and then driven away or killed when they refuse to pay taxes imposed by the colonists. In the 2008 timeline, a Lenape family loses their home in Oklahoma after being similarly tricked into taking out an adjustable-rate mortgage to pay medical bills.

Nagle weaves the stories together skillfully, one mirroring the other, often using the same language, to drive home the point that the American story has always been one of putting commerce above people, especially when those people aren't white. It's devastating, but it also shows the incredible resilience of the Lenape. I wouldn't call it hopeful, but it does demonstrate the strength of the human spirit.

The ensemble is strong across the board, with particularly good performances by Tanis Parenteau and Jeffrey King. If you've been to OSF, you'll know that one of the company's major fortes is its scenic and lighting design. Even in the recording, the incredible work of scenic designer Mariana Sánchez, lighting designer James F. Ingalls, and projection designer Mark Holthusen, is just as much a star of the show.

In the Before Times, I traveled to Ashland every year to see six of the 11 shows. MANAHATTA was not on my schedule in 2018, and I regretted not seeing it then. It's a gift to us all that OSF has chosen this show as part of its 2021 combined digital/in-person season.

MANAHATTA is available to watch through April 24. At only $15, it's a streaming deal. Details and tickets here: https://www.osfashland.org/en/productions/2021-digital-plays/d-manahatta.aspx



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