BETHESDA, Maryland – A new play titled “On the Far End” debuted its first public table reading April 29 and May 1 at the National Capital Play Festival. The play is about the life of Muscogee activist leader, Ella Jean Chaudhuri. The story’s themes focus on Muscogee culture, history and issues. The play is written and performed by Mary Kathryn Nagle, a Cherokee Citizen and the daughter-in-law of Ella Jean Chaudhuri.
Nagle’s husband and Ella Jean’s son, Jonodev Chaudhuri was ecstatic about the production.“I was very thankful and honored that Mary Kathryn was willing to take on mom’s life story as the subject matter for her next play.” Jonodev Chaudhuri said. “It’s especially fitting to be talking to you about this play the day after mother’s day, mom passed away 25 years ago this year.”
The play’s plot details major events from Ella Jean Chaudhuri’s life including fleeing a Native American boarding school, her marriage to a Bengali scholar, and major advocacy for Native Americans. Issues that the play tackles include alcoholism, mental health, tribal sovereignty, land rights and the Sterilization of Native American Women. “The play that M.K. (Mary Kathryn) has written is about my mom, but she uses my mom’s life to tell a universal Native story that encapsulates all sorts of policy developments of the 20th century,” Jonodev Chaudhuri said.
The title, “On the Far End” is a reference to the landmark Supreme Court opinion on McGirt v. Oklahoma, which upheld the Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s sovereignty.
Ella Jean Chaudhuri’s extensive career in Native American advocacy made her the perfect subject for a two hour theatrical production. She was the Executive Director of the Tucson Indian Center that provided tutoring, employee assistance, alcohol counseling, and Native American health issues. She even opened the first off-reservation Indian Health clinic in Tucson, and was the recipient of numerous awards and honors for her advocacy efforts.
Ella Jean Chaudhuri’s advocacy efforts could only be matched by her storytelling abilities. Her talents were found across many different mediums including stage, literature and traditional oral storytelling. Ella Jean Chaudhuri co-authored the book “A Sacred Path: the way of the Muscogee Creeks” with her husband, Joyotpaul.
A playwright herself, Ella Jean Chaudhuri penned a musical comedy called “Indians Discover Christopher Columbus” on the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ arrival in America. It was only fitting that her own story would be brought to life on stage by Nagle.
Although Nagle never met Ella Jean Chaudhuri herself, she was the natural choice to tell the story in a theatrical setting. Nagle’s career has many parallels to Ella Jean Chaudhuri’s, they are both advocates for Native American issues and stage playwrights. Nagle’s playwright credits include “Sovereignty”, “Manahatta” and “Return to Niobrara”.
Nagle worked very closely with her husband, Jonedev Chaudhuri, to tell a story that respectfully portrayed the play’s main heroine. “Her life was pretty amazing, everything she survived, everything she fought for, everything she achieved.” Nagle said. “The struggles she had are just very real, balancing her incredibly hard work as an activist with being a mother and raising her children”.
Although a table reading is not the final product in a stage production, it provides opportunities for the production team to see how an audience reacts to the story. From there, adjustments are made to make the story more engaging. The table read for “On the Far End” was not only attended by the family of Nagle and Jonodev Chaudhuri, but distinguished Muscogee citizens as well.
The table read also presented advocacy opportunities on current tribal issues.“Right now Creek Nation is almost in an existential battle to try to protect and implement the historic McGirt Decision, having federal officials there understand that these stories aren’t just about abstract notions of law and sovereignty, they speak to the heart of our experiences as Native people” Jonodev Chaudhuri said.
Jonodev Chaudhuri believes the play is important in empowering the next generation of Indigenous people. “When we talked about this play the hope was that the play would provide a road map for younger Natives who also have their own struggles in their lives, trying to live a life of purpose, maybe a life of activism or advocacy, while being true to their roots.” Jonodev Chaudhuri said.
The play is currently seeking to hire Native Americans to work on the production as actresses, costume designers, and lighting designers. Nagle said they are also seeking to hire a Muscogee cultural consultant to make sure all aspects of the Muscogee culture and language are authentically portrayed.
“On the Far End” is set to debut at the Roundhouse Theater April 2023.