Throughout time, things have both changed and have also stayed the same. Playwright Mary Kathryn Nagle constantly brings us from the present, to the past and somewhere in the middle. This play has many constants, variations and much symmetry too it. In the one hour and forty intermission less minutes we go back and forth between a Wall Street firm where a talented, young Indian woman with a propensity for mathematics, who is originally from Oklahoma, lands a job in investment banking. Proud of her Indian roots, she has lost many of the customs and the traditions of her culture. Even though she has to go back and forth to tend to her dying father, she has her eye on the prize... the glory of being a Wall Street big shot.
"Manahatta" has three parts to it; three different scenarios of history that can often be confusing throughout the play. In a single functioning set (Mariana Sanchez) that serves as a Wall Street office; the families home and the Lower East Side where the Dutch have landed to take up trading,( a different kind of trading which we know from Wall Street). We get a very different look and feel from the three kinds of places thanks to the very talented costume designs by Stephanie Bahniuk.
Pre 2008 housing bubble, Jane Snake (Lily Gladstone) has been brought to Lehman Brothers to assess risks in lending. When she is not giving out loans as fast as the firm would like, her job becomes in jeopardy at the firm. Her bosses question whether a woman, let alone an Indian woman is right for this job. Back home, Jane's mother who has no credit score, needs money to pay for her husbands operations. She is talked into taking an ARM loan from her local bank. All too eager to make loans as well, her local bank sets her up for failure. Much like the lending bubble, the Dutch trade with the Indians for furs, food and other things; but the Indians, like people trying to secure mortgages, who have no business getting these mortgages, are set up for failure, as well as slaughter. The slaughter, however, is symmetrical to the slaughter that innocent people received with these toxic loans.
The play had a constant pace too it. Director Laurie Woolery kept the show both sharp and crisp. The same can be said for its lighting (Emma Deane). In both efforts, "Manahatta" was easy to visually watch. What was not so easy, however, was keeping up with the core of the story. The chronology of this play switched back and forth to fast and too often and lost the audience at times. Other times it seemed that dialogue was added into the performance that did not add anything to the plays plot. Words were sometimes just meaningless words and seemed to come from no where of relevance.
With strong acting; direction and strong staging, "Manahatta" had some strong writing as well. With the exception of the last seven minutes, this was a first rate show. The problem with the plays ending is that it seemed that Nagle ran out of ideas on how to conclude this body of work. It was further confusing as to Jane/Le-le-wa-you... what and even who she was trying to portray. Her mother/Bobbie and her seemed to switch roles in the end and it was never made clear to us what this signified. In normal circumstances it would seem that she morphed into the mother but that was clearly not the case here. Further to the plot, (not as confusing), was why wouldn't Luke, a Native American step in and do more to save the mother? Many things were left unresolved at the end, even so, "Manahatta" gave a sensational effort.