By Holli Harms
From time immemorial we would sit at the feet of the storyteller as they painted the stories of us for us. Verbal stories of great loss, gains, moments of grace and beauty, stories of those turned out and those brought in, weaving and braiding them together in a way that would evoke laughter, tears, laughter, anger, laughter and retribution, stories of us, our societies and our lives.
In the course of two hours we sit at the some times bare feet of Anna Deavere Smith, as she weaves the stories of us. Playing 19 people, all the dialogue transcribed from interviews, Anna Deavere Smith is a powerhouse, a tour-de-force, a troubadour and mirror of ourselves. This is not a performance but a channeling, a conjuring, a bewitching. With a simple change of jacket and shoes she brings these very real people to the stage and we experience first person accounts of their anguish, their thoughts, their hopes and dreams. From the power of geese to the apology of an ex-KKK member we are in their world.
Huge panels cover the length of the stage and project the beating of Freddie Gray, the dragging of the high school student Shakara from her desk in South Carolina, the abuse of a young teenager in Texas. The images are large. They loom over us. We’ve watched these incidents on our small screens, iphones, laptops, but in this production they are huge, demanding to be fully witnessed, witnessed not alone, but as part of this audience, this collective. I watched horrified as one young girl cried for her mother while being dragged around by a police officer.
Anna Deavere Smith’s people, all real, are not victims of their circumstances and throughout their discourse gift us their hope. Some are fighting for their rights, some are the violent perpetrators of racism, some are remorseful. The common thread they all have has a link in the education of racism and hate perpetuated in this country.
Anna is supported so beautifully by director Leonard Foglia and composer and fellow performer Marcus Shelby who is often on stage with Miss Smith and with his bass accompanies her words perfectly. They are creating their own new music.
Her cry to the audience is that it is through education we can make change. We can stop the “school to prison pipeline” that runs so rampant in our minority neighborhoods. Her task to us as we conclude the emotional evening, is that we all pick one child to help. If we each help one child, we can with that simple act make a difference not only in the child’s life, but in all of ours.
Her mother was a teacher in Baltimore and believed that education was the way out of poverty. Miss Smith shows us exactly what can and does happen in these schools where minorities are not able to see anything but violence and anger towards them. She portrays some wonderful educators who are making a difference. However, we can’t depend on the teachers and faculty to do all the work. We must stand up, get active and project our grace.
This performance, this story should not be missed. It is us. The best and the worse of us.
“If you listen carefully, at the end you’ll be someone else.” Vyasa
SECOND STAGE THEATRE PRESENTS NOTES FROM THE FIELD Part of her The Pipeline Project – Directed by Leonard Foglia
A Play Created, Written and Performed by Anna Deavere Smith
Music Composed and Performed by Marcus Shelby
Scenic Design Riccardo Hernandez, Costume Design Ann Hould-Ward, Lighting Design Howard Binkley, Sound Design Leon Rothenberg, Projection Design Elaine McCarthy
Limited Engagement through December 18, 2016 Off-Broadway at Second Stage’s Tony Kiser Theatre (305 W 43rd Street)
RUNTIME: 2 Hours, 15 Minutes including one 15-minute intermission