Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

Arena Stage
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

Also see Susan's reviews of Jefferson's Garden and 4,380 Nights

Kyla García
Photo by C. Stanley Photography
Sovereignty, now in the Kreeger Theater at Washington's Arena Stage, is a dynamic look at citizenship and loyalty as seen through the experiences of the Cherokee Nation. Playwright Mary Kathryn Nagle, a Cherokee citizen and a lawyer, presents the interconnection of past and present by retelling a true story that involved several of her 19th-century ancestors.

Cherokee lawyer Sarah Polson (Kyla García) returns home to work on restoring tribal sovereignty: the right of tribal nations to arrest non-Natives accused of a crime on their land. The tribes originally gained this right through an 1832 ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court, but President Andrew Jackson (Joseph Carlson)—who decided that the Cherokees were impeding progress by staying on their ancestral lands in the southeastern U.S. and wanted them moved to what is now Oklahoma—refused to enforce the court's ruling. A 1978 Supreme Court ruling overturned the earlier one, leading to acts of non-Native aggression primarily against Native women.

The version of the Violence Against Women Act reauthorized by Congress in 2013 restored part of the tribes' legal jurisdiction, but the law is up for reauthorization again this year. Sarah wants to work with Jim Ross (Jake Waid), Attorney General of the Cherokee Nation, to make the provision permanent.

Sarah is a descendant of John Ridge (Kalani Queypo), one of the plaintiffs in the 1832 case, while Jim is descended from another plaintiff, John Ross (Waid). The two prominent families became enemies after the case because of their differing views of the future for their people: Ross was determined to keep the Cherokees from being evicted from their land, while Ridge realized that nothing was going to stop Jackson and thought that relocating the tribe would at least prevent a genocide.

García and Queypo give soulful, deeply realized performances that provide the grounding for the story in both time periods, while Andrew Roa adds gravitas as the father of both John Ridge and Sarah. Carlson is implacable as Jackson and conflicted as a non-Native police officer trying to understand Sarah's perspective.

Director Molly Smith directs with crystalline purity on Ken MacDonald's set, a simple white design with clean lines and Cherokee decorative elements.

Arena Stage
January 12th - February 18th, 2018
By Mary Kathryn Nagle
Samuel Worcester/Mitch: Michael Glenn
Andrew Jackson/Ben/Fight Captain: Joseph Carlson
Elias Boudinot/Watie: Jake Hart
White Chorus Man: Todd Scofield
Sarah Polson: Kyla García
John Ridge: Kalani Queypo
Sarah Bird Northrup/Flora Ridge/Offstage Woman's Voice: Dorea Schmidt
John Ross/Jim Ross: Jake Waid
Major Ridge/Roger Ridge Polson: Andrew Roa
Directed by Molly Smith
Kreeger Theater, Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater, Sixth and Maine avenues SW
Washington, DC
Ticket Information: 202-488-3300 or