Madeline Sayet's one woman show Where We Belong at Woolly Mammoth
Credit: Jon Burklund

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Where We Belong

Madeline Sayet stands on stage at Woolly Mammoth Theatre, the floor bisected by a trail of earth meandering like the River Thames through London, or, perhaps, the Connecticut river that bears the same name. In the 1600s, English colonists settled on Mohegan land and renamed the Pequot River after London’s Thames. Sayet is Mohegan; in this filmed presentation of her one-woman show, Where We Belong, she tells the story of how she traveled to England in 2015 to pursue a Ph.D. in Shakespeare. Sayet specializes in exploring the relationship between Shakespeare’s texts and Native performance—how interpretative openness allowed her to stage plays like The Tempest as critiques of colonialism. In London, however, her colleagues questioned whether she sufficiently loved Shakespeare, unaware of the absurdity of their bardolatry. Of course, Sayet is not the first Mohegan in London. In Where We Belong, Sayet regularly visits a memorial to Mahomet Weyonomon, who, in 1735, came to petition George II to stop English colonists from seizing Mohegan lands. Mahomet died of smallpox while awaiting audience and was buried in an unmarked grave. Having spent much of her childhood in Connecticut’s Tantaquidgeon Museum, founded by her great-aunt and operated by the Mohegan Tribe, Sayet recounts her shock during a visit to the British Museum. Among the injustices Sayet unveils are the various items from desperate cultures carelessly grouped together and misidentified, as well as numerous sacred artifacts, with living spirits, that had been acquired through violence. Worst, though, is that the museum’s collection includes the remains of thousands of people from countries colonized by the empire—with no plans for repatriation. Sayet uses movement and stillness to further enhance her engaging storytelling, while director Mei Ann Teo marshals the skills of a small crew of collaborators to create a show for both a large stage and a small screen. The play is available for streaming through July 11 at $20.99.