Where The Bard and Mohegans meet
Madeline Sayet is in the midst of seeing her version of "The Tempest" come to life onstage at the Brooklyn Lyceum, where it wraps its three-night run tonight.
Sayet, a member of the Mohegan tribe who grew up in Norwich and Uncasville, has given the Shakespeare classic a new twist by incorporating into it some Mohegan language and elements.
This project happens to be her graduate thesis; she is majoring in arts politics at New York University.
Sayet had been contemplating a "Tempest" adaptation for four years. She realized the Shakespeare text already contained a good deal of anti-colonialist discussion, so weaving in Native elements made sense.
"He's already dealing with so many issues that are in modern discourse, in terms of language loss and all of that," she says.
She began thinking about what would happen if Caliban - who is expressly Mohegan in Sayet's production - and the spirit Ariel had their own language. Now, the native language on the island where "The Tempest" is set is Mohegan.
Caliban has been forced into servitude by Prospero, who was shipwrecked on this remote island.
"He talks so much about hating Prospero for having forced this other language upon him. If he could get it back, how would that change things?" she says.
Sayet didn't end up adapting chunks of dialogue into Mohegan but rather focused in particular on one word, because she felt that was a stronger choice. When Caliban starts to remember what the word for "freedom" is in his own language, he uses the Mohegan word: nayawiyuwok.
"The Tempest" is, as the Lyceum website describes it, "a story of humanity's struggle for freedom, and everyone's desire for a 'new' world."
Sayet also added a prologue spoken by Ariel entirely in Mohegan. The prologue describes how, a long time ago, a canoe at sea was caught in a great storm.
"It has a nice grounding effect on the work," she says.
Sayet's appreciation of Shakespeare began when she was a child. The first play she saw, in fact, was by the Bard. Her mother brought her to a Flock Theatre production, and Madeline returned to see more Flock Shakespeare performances over the years. As a 14-year-old, she auditioned for Flock and nabbed the role of Iris - in "The Tempest."
"The Tempest" concludes its three-night run at 7:30 p.m. tonight at the Brooklyn Lyceum, 227 4th Ave., Brooklyn. Tickets are $12. Visit brooklynlyceum.com.