“Miss Lead” at 59E59 Theaters (Closed Sunday January 26, 2014)

January 20, 2014 | Off-Broadway | Tags:
By Mary Kathryn Nagle
Directed by Madeline Sayet
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Any controversy resulting from the atrocities heaped upon the nations of the Original Peoples of North America by the United States and its corrupt and capricious Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) is an important and somber discussion. Mary Kathryn Nagle’s “Miss Lead” brings sharp and disturbing focus to the events surrounding the Tri-State Mining District in Joplin, Missouri.

Several American Indian Nations were forcibly removed to this region on various “Trails of Tears” from 1830 onward (Indian Removal Act of 1830). This act of ethnic cleansing is one of the most horrific events in Native American history. The play focuses specifically on the discovery of lead on this land and the processing of the lead for military use. This mining and processing created toxic levels of lead in the soil and the increase in cancer and auto-immune diseases in the residents of the area.

In “Miss Lead” Katie (Tanis Parenteau) is diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease and celiac sprue and it is clear that her diagnosis results from living in Joplin. Her father George (Tyree Giroux) is the current owner of the Tri-State Mining Company and, although the mining of lead in the area ceased, still promotes his family’s legacy and attempts to fend off a fuselage of law suits filed by members of the area’s Native American Nations.

Katie’s story in the present counterpoints the story of miners from the past and Katie’s journey of her acceptance of her important Native Miami heritage. The conflicts in these parallel plots, though clear, often become muddled in the clumsy scene changes and the production overall does not do justice to the material of the script. Too frequently the direction of “Miss Lead” is ponderous and leaves the actors in awkward and sometimes ludicrous exchanges and appearing more like cartoons than authentic characters. The cast does its best to honor the important script but the struggle is unfortunately often without the desired result.

One wishes that Ms. Nagle’s sincere concerns about ethnic cleansing and Superfund Sites might have a more sagacious and thoughtful treatment.