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Where We Belong

Theatre Review by Howard Miller - November 9, 2022

Madeline Sayet
Photo by Joan Marcus
In an intriguing solo piece titled Where We Belong, opening tonight at the Public Theater in a production by Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, playwright and performer Madeline Sayet brings together many passions: as executive director of the Yale Indigenous Performing Arts Program; as assistant professor at Arizona State University's Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies; and as a seeker of her personal identity as a member of the Mohegan Tribe. You could well view the 80-minute monologue as a quest, one that informs yet one that also raises questions of the sort I pose at the end of this review. That would seem to be at least part of Sayet's intent as she invites us to join her, as she notes in the play's program, on a "journey that continues and keeps evolving."

The first thing you will notice when you enter the theater is Hao Bai's abstract production design that incorporates deep blues and whites, along with smartly arranged and well-utilized lighting, so that the overall impression is evocative of land, the river, and the sky. In this setting, Sayet, whose performance is directed by Mei Ann Teo, makes masterful use of the art of storytelling to share her experiences, including her resistance to and a later embracing of her roots. Between the lines, you get a strong sense of her mother's presence in all this, the voice of a guiding tribal leader who taught her: "you can leave your nation, but you can no more leave the land from which you are from than you can your leg."

It is possible you are familiar with the Mohegan Sun Casino, located on tribal land in Southeastern Connecticut. It provides a large source of income that the tribe draws from to help fund college scholarships of the sort that allowed Sayet to travel to England to pursue a Ph.D. The subject of her research was fueled by a love of Shakespeare, though, as you will learn, the outcome of her studies took her in unintended directions, including an immersion in four hundred years of history. That history, of her people and her own search for identity and purpose, becomes the content of Where We Belong. Listen and engage, and you will learn a lot.

But there is definitely more to Sayet's story than she shares here. Hence, my question for her: You talk a great deal about your mother's influence on the direction your life has taken, yet almost nothing of your father and his story, other than a brief mention of the fact that your parents were divorced and that your father is Jewish. That suggests an entire half of your heritage that you have left to explore, or at least that you have not shared with us. Or is that something you are saving for another time and place?

Where We Belong
Through November 28, 2022
Public Theater
LuEsther Hall, 425 Lafayette St., New York
Tickets online and current performance schedule: