Laughter, tears mark Liza Jessie Peterson’s brilliant one-woman show, ‘The Peculiar Patriot’

Nadine Matthews | 7/26/2018, 11:07 a.m.

“The Peculiar Patriot,” which runs through July 29 at the National Black Theatre, is a funny, stirring, heartfelt ride about friendship, community and sisterhood and how they are all affected by the so-called prison industrial complex.

With regard to what two decades working in the system has taught her, Peterson said, “It has given me a deeper appreciation for the legacy of resilience of my ancestors and our people and understanding of the continual campaign to crush us and oppress us and deny us our humanity. In spite of that, we continue to love.”

Through a mixture of monologue and projected multimedia images, the action unfolds in the visiting room of a prison. The entrance to the theater itself is adorned on each side by posters listing rules of the visiting rooms in the numerous prisons throughout the country, such as only holding hands where the guards can see them or only being able to eat snacks from vending machines on the premises.

Over the course of the show, Betsy LaQuanda Ross sits across the table from her best friend Joanna, who she visits regularly, updating her about the unfolding events in her life and in the community, sharing gossip and also taking trips down memory lane with her. In between, she skillfully slips in factual information about the ways that working-class Black communities are host to an often parasitic prison industrial complex.

On each successive visit, she brings more pieces of the quilt that she is making, each square representative of someone in her life caught up in the justice system. By the last act, the quilt is complete, literally a material token of her love for her community. LaQuanda is the character that you cannot help but fall in love with. A big sister and baby sister all at once, she is incredibly smart but is also authentic and as big-hearted. A genius blend of art and brutal social commentary, “The Peculiar Patriot” will, from the first minute, move you to tear-inducing laughter and at some points, just plain tears. I can say with absolute confidence it is a production that everyone needs to see and will be glad they did.