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Long Wharf Theatre to bring Flying Bird's Diary to the stage

The exterior of the Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven.
The Long Wharf Theatre
The exterior of the Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven.

The Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven will host its final show this weekend at Sargent Drive — it's home for the last 60 years.

The theatre will showcase a play titled, "Flying Bird’s Diary" which tells the story of Flying Bird, a Mohegan woman who works to preserve her culture.

Fidelia Fielding, better known as Flying Bird, was a Mohegan woman who lived through the turn of the 20th century. She is said to be the last known speaker of the Mohegan language. The play spotlights the observations of the world made in her diary. It chronicles the challenges she faced in her attempt to preserve her language and culture.

Melissa Tantaquidgeon Zobel is the show's playwright.

“She was, of course, a real hero to our people," Zobel said. "She was punished and beaten for speaking it in school. But she really was someone who would not give up her ancient ways, even as others were modernizing or felt pressured to learn English and other languages.”

Zobel wrote the play and works as the tribal historian for the Mohegan Tribe in eastern Connecticut. She said the play is less of an exact biography of Fidelia's life and more about the overarching themes of Mohegan life and its challenges. It’s a combination of information that was passed down and aspects of the culture she grew up in.

“There's a way of seeing the world, there's a way of speaking, a way conversations happen and that hasn't changed as much as you might think," Zobel said. "So I felt very easy with the dialogue and had fun with the it because I spent so much of my life growing up with old-time Mohegans. One of which was born in the 19th century, Gladys Tantaquidgeon.”

Gladys Tantaquideon was Flying Bird’s mentee. She was also Zobel’s aunt. Flying Bird’s Diary was first a screenplay that Zobel felt inspired to write because of the connection she felt with Fidelia. She said because she never met her, she had to write the story using the diary as inspiration and conduct oral history interviews with her aunt.

Zobel said having the play be the last production at the Long Wharf location in New Haven was a real honor. She said the first play held at the location was The Crucible. Both plays tackle New England mythology.

“This play is about really the fact that Native people in New England have survived in spite of the fact that books like The Last of the Mohicans keep telling the world that we’re all dead,” Zobel said.

Zobel hopes the play allows people to see that the history of Connecticut is the history of Indigenous people. She said Flying Bird not only saved the Mohegan language, but she told stories about the land of Connecticut.

“We’re telling an indigenous Connecticut story in Connecticut. And Connecticut has been sadly neglectful of its indigenous stories in terms of their appearance in literature, plays, and so many things. Seeing native people in the arts, seeing us in those kinds of ways is important for people to realize that we are a living, breathing people,” Zobel said.

Flying Bird’s Diary will run from Saturday until Sunday. It will feature members of the Mohegan Tribe in the cast. Each performance will be followed by a talkback with different guest speakers.

Jeniece Roman is WSHU's Report for America corps member who writes about Indigenous communities in Southern New England and Long Island, New York.