Photo by Don Kellogg

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Notes From the Field

While they have cut the inappropriate sub-title from the playbill, they have not cut it from the marketing material.  While this play touches on education is is absolutely not about "doing time in education" as its previous title and marketing might suggest.

Another one-woman show, Notes From The Field, is helmed by the indomitable Anna Deavere Smith.  The show is less of a theatrical production, but rather a lecture on race, racial inequality, and discrimination.  I am happy to have seen it, but, once again, quite disappointed that a subscription theatre company choose to represent it as a play in its season.

The show as described by video headlines projected in the theatre before the show starts is quite literally a patchwork of interviews that Ms. Deavere Smith conducted with various people in doing research on the prison population, education system, and police violence.  The show, when it covered the prison system and the education system, really hit high notes.  However, Ms. Deveare Smith seemed to have a need to highlight police brutality and the recent headline stories like Freedy Grey and Shakira (the girl who was flipped out of her chair by a police officer in a high school classroom).  When it focused on these headlines it strayed from its core message and ended up in sensationalism-land not really connecting these stories to eduction quite as much.

The video projections were superb and filled the stage with live video/news clips (Elaine McCarthy). However, the disjointed panels onto which they were projected were a poor choice as they text and sub-titles that usually accompanied the video was often un-readable and chopped up (Riccardo Hernandez).  Ms. Deavere Smith is clearly intelligent and passionate about her research.  She becomes the characters she interviewed - including both voices and mannerisms.  Each scene's title is projected on the proscenium and it was always a line or phrase spoken by the character at some point during the interview.  She closes the show with a quite moving and decidedly accurate portrayal of the legendary US Representative John Lewis.

While once again, I am happy to have seen such an intelligent and moving performance, I do not consider this to be a play that I would have wanted to see.  It was more like a 92nd Street Y performance.  I also wish the emphasis on education was stronger and the sensational racial headlines were less.  An all too liberal white (haired and skinned) audience ate it up and I'm sure on tour in the right northern and northwestern blue states it might be equally successful.  I doubt the places it is most needed and relevant to are on the tour list - and that is a depressing thought.