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Fighting for Native Americans, in Court and Onstage

What she has made from that tale, a time-shifting play whose characters come with President Andrew Jackson, is in holding with Arena’s penchant for political fare like John Strand’s “The Originalist,” concerning the Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, and Lawrence Wright’s “Camp David.”


From left: Andrew Roa as Major Ridge, Kalani Queypo as John Ridge and Jake Hart as Elias Boudinot in “Sovereignty.”

C. Stanley

Ms. Nagle — a attorney who wrote and, along with her fellow scholars, staged a play every yr she was once at Tulane Law School, and met her legislation spouse when he got here to the Newseum to look a studying of every other of her performs — suits proper in, no longer best with Arena however with Washington.

“She has an ability to quickly move from the personal to the political,” Molly Smith, Arena’s creative director, mentioned. “We live here, where we eat, sleep, drink politics, and it’s all through our personal lives. She embodies that within the work that she does.”

Opening on Jan. 24 in a world-premiere manufacturing directed by way of Ms. Smith as a part of the Women’s Voices Theater Festival, “Sovereignty” got here out of Arena’s Power Plays initiative, which targets to inform a tale of the United States in 25 new works over 10 years, with one play pegged to every decade since 1776. Ms. Nagle is the primary Native American voice in that blend.

“I started writing snidbits of this play in law school,” Ms. Nagle mentioned, and in that informal, playful little phrase “snidbits” is a counterbalance to her cerebral depth, the power she has to quote case legislation and difficult to understand dates mid-conversation. (She may be extremely entertaining, given to speaking along with her palms and throwing her hands large to emphasise some degree.)

Ms. Nagle radiates the power that her résumé on my own suggests: a full-time legislation occupation, dedicated to the problems that still devour her writing (tribal sovereignty, the surroundings, home violence and sexual attack); two performs getting global premieres this yr on reverse aspects of the rustic, the opposite being “Manahatta” at Oregon Shakespeare Festival; a part-time gig working the Yale Indigenous Performing Arts Program in New Haven.


In “Sovereignty,” Kyla García portrays a Cherokee attorney whose occupation loosely resembles the playwright’s.

C. Stanley

She moved to Washington in 2015 after a stint operating for a company legislation company in New York, the place she wrote “Manahatta” in the Public Theater’s Emerging Writers Group. Last summer season, she moved again to Oklahoma, the place she grew up. A glow got here into her face when she discussed her new space, on a lake at the Osage Reservation, however her Tulsa-based company has an workplace and an condominium in Washington, and her travel-heavy observe nonetheless brings her there. When I informed Ms. Nagle that I questioned no longer about her work-life stability however merely how she juggles her prison occupation along with her artwork, she leapt proper into the non-public facet anyway.

“I don’t have children, and I would like to have children,” she mentioned. With an upbeat, what-the-hell forthrightness, she added, “Let me just put that advertisement out there for who wants to be the stay-at-home dad, ’cause I don’t think I can handle a third thing right now. It’s kind of overwhelming.”

The daughter of a health care provider and a nursing faculty dean, Ms. Nagle began making up tales as a kid, dragooning her two more youthful sisters into performing them out along with her. As a Georgetown University undergraduate, she designed her personal primary in justice and peace research, however took categories in theater, received a scholar one-act contest and wrote a play known as “Miss Lead,” about lead mining on Oklahoma reservations, for her senior thesis.

Her freshman yr, she carried out in a scholar manufacturing of Paula Vogel’s home violence play “Hot ’n’ Throbbing” — a formative enjoy that Ms. Nagle mentioned shattered her affect that there have been “certain things we experience as women that are not appropriate for the stage.”

When Ms. Smith requested her in 2015 what she would possibly like to jot down about for Arena, Ms. Nagle in an instant considered the Violence Against Women Act, which was once reinforced in 2013, giving tribal courts the facility to prosecute non-Native Americans who victimize Native American girls on tribal land. Present on the signing rite, observing President Obama make that develop into legislation, Ms. Nagle sobbed.


“It’s my family onstage,” Ms. Nagle says of the ancient figures in “Sovereignty.”

Justin T. Gellerson for The New York Times

She is satisfied, although, that there'll sooner or later be a problem to that coverage — “when a non-Indian tries to argue to the Supreme Court, which they will, that any exercise of tribal criminal jurisdiction over a non-Indian is unconstitutional.”

As a attorney, she is getting ready for that situation. As a playwright, she is imagining it in “Sovereignty,” a drama about damaged treaties and ancient rifts that also is about rape.

It was once Ms. Smith’s concept to increase Ms. Nagle’s authentic thought, interweaving the fresh strand — focused on a Cherokee Nation attorney who strongly resembles Ms. Nagle and turns into concerned in a home violence case — with one about her Ridge ancestors. Before Major and John Ridge signed the treaty at hand over tribal land, they had been instrumental in an extraordinary case the place Native Americans prevailed in the Supreme Court: Worcester v. Georgia, in 1832, organising a the most important precedent about tribal sovereignty.

That victory is the proud tale Ms. Nagle was once raised on, the tale her grandmother informed her that gave her religion in the Supreme Court and made her wish to cross to legislation faculty. The play follows them thru that case and the treaty signing to their deaths.

The cemetery, by way of the best way, the only the place the Ridges are buried: That’s the place Ms. Nagle plans to finally end up, too, at some point.

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