• Prospect Theater Company

SHATEMUC, a story by Timothy Huang

I know it’s hard for you to believe, but I’m very glad you’re here. Although I cannot be there with you physically please know as I watch from afar that I wish I could be. I’ve seen your dreams these last three nights and I know you are afraid. Don’t be. The time for fear is behind us. You’ve arrived. Not even my emissary, whose voice you hear right now, will remember what has transpired today. Know that as you hear them, you hear me. As you see them, you see me. How do I look? Pretty good right?

Now that you’re here, I know you must have questions: Who summoned me here? How did I arrive, and how do I return? Why do I not remember my own name? Rest assured, my purpose here is to help you divine those answers. In the meantime, can you be patient? Can you be satisfied with the knowledge that something inside you has responded to a call for great change and that these first steps, though unfamiliar, are inevitable? Though I don’t have all the answers, one thing I can tell you is how you arrived. Last night you dreamt of flight, yes? You stood by the window, gazing at the stars, trying to find The New Moon. You thought for a moment you heard a voice. Your second grade teacher. Tell me their name again. Yes. [_________]. You heard [_________]. call out your full name. You climbed out your window, following the sound on to the roof where instead, you encountered The New Moon.


The New Moon said to you “You have been a guest here for too long and it is time for you to make space for others.” She swallowed you with her dark lips, broke your skin and flesh with her pale teeth, devoured your name and transformed you into the Great Horned Owl. In one moonless flight you travelled a distance most people do not cover in seventy years. And now, here you are, in search of your name in Crabapple Grove, just east of the Shatemuc River. Which itself was named because of its unique ability to change direction with the tides. This is an actual real thing, please Google it later. Like all natural things, it breaks free of its human classification to identify itself on its own terms. Sound like someone you know? Let us begin. Who summoned you here? The truth can be found between these facts:


Two days ago you awoke in a room with no windows or doors. At the center of the room was a table. And on it, a house of cards, a hand mirror and a locked keepsake box. Which did you approach first?


CHOICE A: House of Cards CHOICE B: Hand Mirror Station CHOICE C: Keepsake box


CHOICE A: House of Cards

In the same way the horizon changes slightly as we approach our destination, so too does the exterior of my emissary. Don’t worry. I’m still here. Just different. You, even, have changed the tiniest bit journeying from there to here, haven’t you?

You approached the House of Cards and the first thing you noticed was the brand. Not Bicycle. Not Bee. Not Tally-Ho. The word on the back was one you’d never see before: Lenape. And there were no kings. Only queens. No Jacks, only Jills. In truth, the Lenape nation, who once lived on this land, was matrilineal. Their social system revolved heavily around the importance of women. Property, titles, literal herstories. A direct line of women building on themselves from the foundation to the very apex of the structure itself mapped out generations, legacies, stories. Stories upon stories vibrated within the cards, creating a tower practically vibrating in defiance against gravity. “We will not be moved. We will not be erased. You will know our names.”


But seeing these cards took a toll on you and without hesitation you sliced your arm clean through, knocking them every which way, scattering them to the winds. Some took to the air, others fell to the floor, some went you knew not where. What had once lived in depth and height and length was suddenly and horribly paper thin.


That you drew the House of Cards or that the House of Cards drew you is immaterial. It simply means that your strongest connection is to your foundation. Your community. Your nation. You wanted to know who summoned you here. Your tribe summoned you here. To show you that even those things we think are too big to crumble can and will at the hands of the ignorant. The self-serving. But also that though the price of change is pain, the cost of stagnancy is death.


I’ll beg your forgiveness as my visions are only second hand. What I cannot know is how you escaped from that room. Did you rebuild the house or stand over its ruin? Tell me.


CHOICE 1: Rebuild CHOICE 2: Ruin


CHOICE B: Hand Mirror

In the same way the horizon changes slightly as we approach our destination, so too does the exterior of my emissary. Don’t worry. I’m still here. Just different. You, even, have changed the tiniest bit journeying from there to here, haven’t you?


Face down on the table, the mirror’s shiny handle beckoned you to come toward it, a siren song of sorts, its mother-of-pearl inlay shimmering, vibrating with each step. You reached your hand out to pick it up but not without first noticing a single word carved into it: Manitto. Guiding spirit. It’s unclear (at least to me) how you knew this word, three syllables of the dying language of a people that history chooses to forget, but you did. You knew enough to understand what you’d see should you gaze into the mirror.

A small fennec peaking over your shoulder, whispering in your ear like Jiminy Cricket? Maybe your guiding spirit would be the venomous copperhead, its forked tongue steering you towards opportunity. You steeled yourself, grabbed the handle and gazed into the mirror and saw.... New York Harbor. In 1609. And 220,000 acres of oyster beds under the water. You saw a young man with bronze skin retrieving an oyster, wrapping it in seaweed and throwing it on a fire. You saw a European sailor looking on, licking his lips with delight as the shell burst open giving way to the soft delicious insides. You saw the Lenape man toss the pearl to the ground causing the European to look at him as if he were swine.


You saw three hundred years into the future where water that once was sky blue was now a murky green because one billion oysters per year were being scraped from the water way. You looked twenty years further down, when the last New York City oyster bed was closed. You wondered how long the Lenape had lived there, and why they never had this problem. Spent, you placed the pearl-handled mirror gently on the table and like a hollow bone, its glass shattered.


You wanted to know who summoned you here. It was your guiding spirit. Your connection to the natural world and your understanding that balance must be maintained. That though the price of change is pain, the cost of stagnancy is death. I’ll beg your forgiveness as my visions are only second hand. What I cannot know is how you escaped from that room. Did you gaze into it again or look away? Tell me.


CHOICE 1: Gaze Again CHOICE 2: Look Away


CHOICE C: Keepsake Box

In the same way the horizon changes slightly as we approach our destination, so too does the exterior of my emissary. Don’t worry. I’m still here. Just different. You, even, have changed the tiniest bit journeying from there to here, haven’t you?


Though not nearly as much as when you approached the keepsake box. If you had it to do over again, I wonder, would you do anything differently? The box itself seemed plain at first. Made of some type of dark red wood. Basic, bland, boring. Simple copper hinges and a simple copper latch with an old lock, corroded shut. Was it the ancient lock which implied do not trespass that begged for you to do exactly that? Were you so unable to recognize your irrelevance to it’s story that breaking into it felt like your divine right? Or was it simply that upon closer inspection the exterior revealed itself to be far more intricate than you’d first thought? That the quality of the craftsmanship must mirror the value of the treasure within. Surely there would be gold or silver inside. Thirty pieces or more. Or were you simply desperate for a way out of this prison that you thrust the box down onto the floor with all of your strength, cracking it open just enough to fit your fingers inside?


But thirty pieces of silver it was not. A single square of parchment, with the monogram GWC at the top was all you found. As soon as you asked yourself the question though, a voice whispered in your ear: [ho-YAWK-tra-YEAR-duh, vest-IN-dee-shuh, com-PON-yee.] The Dutch West India Company. And as simply as that, you understood the rest: “Yesterday The Arms of Amsterdam arrived here. It sailed from New Netherland out of the River Mauritius on September 23. They have purchased the Island of Manahatta from the savages for the value of 60 Guilders. It is 11,000 Morgens in size.” You set down the parchment and pieces of the box, their red wood staining your hands.


You wanted to know what summoned you here. Your own conscience, itself seemingly indestructible, pleaded with you to let in the light. To acknowledge that the price of change might be pain, but the cost of stagnancy is death. I’ll beg your forgiveness as my visions are only second hand. What I cannot know is how you escaped from that room. Did you reconstruct the prison or let in the light?


CHOICE 1: Let in the light CHOICE 2: Reconstruct


CHOICE 1: Rebuild/Gaze Again/Let in the Light

Of course that is what you did. I am almost embarrassed that I did not guess as much. I see it in your face. Hello again, by the way. Different outside, same inside. Which is more than can be said of you. Have you seen yourself? You’re different. The very memory of what liberated you from your isolation has changed you! So that is how you escaped? Why did I not see it before? That action opened a gate above your head, piercing the darkness, sponging it away. Gazing upward you saw clear through the sky into a more familiar world. Light as a feather you stepped through that portal by letting go. Higher and higher you flew, crossing satellites and stars until you were staring down through the ceiling to the floor of your own dwelling. Right side up at last. You floated gently down, thinking to yourself it must surely have been a dream. You crept into bed, burrowed under your covers, exhausted. Which is when you heard the voice of your second grade teacher. Tell me again what their name was.


Right. Yes. [______]. I think [_______] would be very proud of you. And if you will permit me to say so, I am too. Even though I am fully aware of the thing that you did which put you in isolation to begin with. Would you like to know what that was? That gross offense which yielded the test that yielded the call that led to your stolen name, that led to you being here in this grove? It was three days ago. Think about it for a moment. The answer won’t surprise you. I’ve told you how you arrived. We’ve discovered who summoned you. I think I may now understand how you return. And if I’m correct, your name will reveal itself soon.

How you return, is to return changed. Be the river that can flow in two directions. Know that you can freely live and work and be in this grove, on this island, in this country without consequence but also at the same time be a trespasser. That though you are blameless of wrongdoings from before you were born, your presence and participation here makes you a beneficiary. That comes with responsibility. Make space the best way you can. Understand that everyone is a guest here. The truth about your name can be found a few paces that way.


CHOICE 2: Ruin/Look Away/Reconstruct

I confess I am a little disappointed. Hi, still me. Just different on the outside again. You however, are not as changed as I’d hoped. Did you think the way forward could be achieved by a backwards step? Were your actions completely governed by fear? No... that couldn’t be it. You’re here after all. And only those who are worthy belong here. And after all there is never a straight path to redemption, and there is no wrong way to change…. Forgive my momentary judgement. I should have known better. Whatever your motivation must have been, your true heart can not be concealed. Did you see the gate above? Gazing upward, clear through the sky, did it open and reveal a more familiar world? Did you float through? Flying ever higher, crossing satellites and stars until you were staring down through the ceiling to the floor of your own dwelling? It is actually a story I have heard before. Right side up at last. You must have floated gently down, thinking to yourself it was surely a dream. You crept into bed, burrowed under your covers, exhausted. Which is when you heard the voice of your second grade teacher. Tell me again what their name was.


Right. Yes. [______]. I think [_______] would be very proud of you. And if you will permit me to say so, I am too. Even though I am fully aware of the thing that you did which put you in isolation to begin with. Would you like to know what that was? That gross offense which yielded the test that yielded the call that led to your stolen name, that led to you being here in this grove? It was three days ago. Think about it for a moment. The answer won’t surprise you. I’ve told you how you arrived. We’ve discovered who summoned you. I think I may now understand how you return. And if I’m correct, your name will reveal itself soon.

How you return, is to return changed. Be the river that can flow in two directions. Know that you can live freely and work and be in this grove, on this island, in this country without consequence but also at the same time be a trespasser. That though you are blameless of wrongdoings from before you were born, your presence and participation here makes you a beneficiary. That comes with responsibility. Make space the best way you can. Understand that everyone is a guest here. The truth about your name can be found a few paces that way.


FINALE: Say My Name

Welcome. Different emissary, same voice. You’ve come such a long way and endured so much. I’m truly grateful. Change requires a perpetual, willful, conscious act. And it is not for everyone. There remains but one step more. I beg your indulgence, but in order for you to tell me who you are, I must first tell you who I am.


My name is Tim. I’m a playwright and a composer. I was born in Philadelphia, raised in Delaware and moved to New York City when I turned 18 to pursue acting. I own property on this island and have been paying taxes since I joined the workforce at sixteen. I always had a job during college. I am the textbook apex of privilege. Or at least I would be except my parents came from Taiwan. Which means in the wake of the pandemic, a lot of angry people gave themselves carte blanche to blame me for what they lost. So after twelve months of feeling unsafe leaving the house, of wearing a mask everywhere, of not travelling to the west coast to introduce my daughter to her grandparents, of waiting in line to get the vaccine after Senators who refused to lend their names to a document denouncing hate crimes against me, my time for fear is not yet over. I carry a bat on the train and take my headphones off. I put Baby Yoda stickers on my mask so no one thinks I’m a foreigner. I would probably be there with you now except Riverside Park is one of the many, many places I’ve been harassed by people whose justification is that they somehow have more ownership over this land than I do.


So I think about ownership. How impossible it is to be the river that flows both ways when we are all simultaneously that river. I think about how everyone here is a guest at someone else’s house but some of us put our feet on the coffee table anyway, and tell others of us to go back to where we came from like that means something. I think about how until four years ago I never stopped to acknowledge on whose land I lived. And how unconscionably rude that is. I think about what I would say if I met a member of the Lenape nation tomorrow.


My name’s Tim. I’m Laura’s husband, Haven’s father, Tom’s brother and Peter and Jeanne’s son. And I’m a guest here. What’s your name?

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