Madeline Sayet is center stage. At this moment in her story, she is about to take the next step in her professional career. She knows what she wants, and it’s time to tell her mother.
Sayet stands her ground and announces: “I’m going to the U.K. to study Shakespeare.”
Sayet plays all of the characters in her solo show, and we see take a step back and transform into her mother. A scowl takes over her face as she responds, “Why?... you are running across the ocean to study a white man?”
The audience laughs. Sayet continues the back and forth with her mother, trying to help her understand, and ultimately sighs. As an audience member, you might relate to the struggle of convincing a loved one you are making the right choice for your personal journey. That nostalgia might make you chuckle, much like this particular evening’s audience.
Sayet’s interaction also opens a much larger window into her own struggle, which she explores over the course of the play—
How does she maintain a connection to her familial and ancestral roots while also exploring her connection to this 400-year-old playwright in a country with a challenging history in colonialism?
Goodman Theatre presents Where We Belong
Written and performed by Madeline Sayet, Where We Belong is her autobiographical story. In 2015, the Mohegan theatre-maker travels to England to pursue a PhD in Shakespeare. In the midst of the rising conversations around Brexit, Sayet finds herself in a country that refuses to acknowledge its ongoing role in colonialism. As she navigates the various facets of her own identity, she is forced to confront her definition of home, and how that might look different than she had ever imagined previously.
Directed by Mei Ann Teo, the solo piece invites the audience into a deeply personal performance for Sayet. Production Designer Hao Bai maintains a fairly simple stage, with small paths of dirt on the ground to help represent ancestral roots. There are very few barriers between Sayet and the audience. The show becomes an intimate experience for all in the space.
Sayet’s story has its uplifting memories, but much like any personal history, there are also the stark moments in which reality hits.
Sayet always viewed Shakespeare through an anti-colonialist lens, and found comfort in her understanding of The Tempest, her favorite play. Throughout her studies we see her stand by her beliefs, and continue to defend Shakespeare as one who was ahead of his time with this mindset.
In one moment in her journey, we see Sayet stand downstage talking to her professors. Over the course of this interaction she begins to question her understanding of the playwright, and slowly everything she believes starts to come into question. As she sinks down to her knees and looks to the audience, she asks:
”Why did I study Shakespeare?
Why did I think he was anti-colonialist?...
Because I thought he was good,
or because I needed him to be?”
As much as these questions are for her and her journey, she invites us into her memory—a gift to treasure, in this reviewer’s opinion. Sayet’s vulnerability and light humor invites us along for the ride – all the highs and lows. As you see her struggle on stage, you might just wish you could reach out and return the favor. Full of openness and honesty, Madeline Sayet’s solo piece is one you are likely to remember.
Hao Bai (Production), Asa Benally (Costume), Erik Schilke (Original Composition and Sound), Vera Starbard (Dramaturgy), Liz Hayes (Dialect Coaching)
June 24 - July 24, 2022
170 N Dearborn Street
Chicago, IL 60601
About the Author: Lauren Katz
Lauren Katz is a freelance director and dramaturge, and new to the Chicago Theatre Scene. She recently moved from Washington DC, where she worked with Mosaic Theater Company of DC in Company Management, as well as directed around town with various theaters.
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