Review: WHERE WE BELONG at Seattle Rep

A vulnerable look at colonization.

By: Sep. 15, 2022
Review: WHERE WE BELONG at Seattle Rep
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Review: WHERE WE BELONG at Seattle Rep
Madeline Sayet in WHERE WE BELONG at
Philadelphia Theatre Company, directed by Mei Ann Teo.
Photo credit: Mark Garvin

The history of colonization of indigenous lands in this country and other countries is a sensitive subject that many shy away from. But then to look at it from the viewpoint of those that have been displaced goes a long way to recognizing the issues and keep them from continuing. Madeline Sayet and her amazing play "Where We Belong", currently playing at the Seattle Rep gives a wonderful insight into this topic and specifically her viewpoint and how it affected her and her Mohegan culture.

From the start she shares that this is not an all-encompassing viewpoint for all indigenous peoples but her own story. But then lumping all of a culture into one stereotype is part of what she so brilliantly examines in the piece. And when I say, "she", I mean Sayet herself as the author is the person performing this one woman show.

She frames it around her journeys into getting her PhD by travelling to London to study Shakespeare, specifically as his work relates to colonization. Along the way she is confronted not only with the various borders and their own cultural rules, but with how she's unexpectedly confronted with her own Mohegan culture and history while in London.

The majority of her piece is her, conveying a story. It's a friend sharing what happened to her and how it affected her. And that part works well. Sayet is a very personable performer with a great stage presence, and she certainly has a singular perspective of the issue, and a perspective that, sadly, many of us have never been exposed to. Which is why a show like this is so very important. I keep saying "representation matters" but not just in casting but also in the stories that we tell or see, and while it may be uncomfortable at times, it's nonetheless crucial to know.

Now, don't get me wrong, this is not a 90-minute lecture on how all white men are evil. She imbues her tale with a very personal feel and much humor and heart. Yes, she gets into some of the evil things our ancestors did, but the issues brought up are there to expand people's horizons. To inform, not to accuse. And while I personally left feeling sick about the circumstances, I didn't feel beat up, just informed.

There were some points of the production I wasn't wild about, beyond the amazing topic. Sayet is a great orator, but she tends to get a bit static in her delivery and could use some levels. And throughout the piece we got pre-recorded lines as if they were thoughts in her head. That felt a little gimmicky and could have just been said. And finally, some of the set and lighting elements from Hao Bai felt clunky and overproduced.

But none of that killed this wonderful show by any stretch of the imagination. It's a fantastic piece with information that should be learned lest we keep repeating our past bad behaviors. And so, with my three-letter rating system, I give "Where We Belong" a newly informed and enlightened YAY-. If we're not going to be educated about these things in school, then at least we can learn more as adults. And maybe even work to change what our children of today are taught.

"Where We Belong" performs at the Seattle Rep through October 9th. For tickets or information visit them online at www.seattlerep.org.




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