Review by Holli Harms
14 November 2016
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.
"Wonderfully energizing new performance piece about the cursed intersection of two American institutions, the school and the prison, in a racially divided nation."
Ben Brantley for New York Times
"In her latest documentary solo play, the audacious and mind-opening Notes from the Field, Anna Deavere Smith delves into poverty, police brutality, mass incarceration and educational failure."
Adam Feldman for Time Out New York
"Smith delivers the acting goods in this powerful if overstuffed solo piece."
Frank Scheck for Hollywood Reporter
"In 'Notes from the Field,' Anna Deavere Smith has created one of her most ambitious and powerful works on how matters of race continue to divide and enslave the nation. Ostensibly, the show is about the “school-to-prison pipeline” in low-income public education systems, but Smith’s scope is greater than a look inside classrooms. Here she finds connections to a failed justice system, police violence and even to the civil rights movement of the ’60s. All this — and a bravura performance — make for a stunning production."
Frank Rizzo for Variety
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