I don’t know anyone else who has the gift to interview people—to capture the person’s words and essence, tone of voice, facial gestures, nervous ticks such as stuttering, way of sitting and particular body movements that clearly depict that a different individual is addressing the audience—than Anna Deavere Smith.
Smith has now created another masterpiece of human narrative, feeling and depth, capturing the frustration, hopelessness and racism that is felt in our society in “Notes From the Field.”
Smith depicts the prison system and the number of minorities who are a part of it. She talks about police brutality against African-Americans and uses actual video of the beatings of people such as Freddie Gray. She used video footage from his funeral service, and then delivered the words of Pastor Jamal Harrison Bryant. This artist and teacher looks at the hopeless attitude that Black men in Baltimore have about the police. Allen Bullock was the protester she interviewed, and she speaks as him. This man had been chased and beaten by the police, so much so that he comes to the conclusion that this situation is just how things are and in defeat admits, “I’m fully tired.”
Smith looks at society through the eyes and words of many people. One is a mayoral candidate who recognizes the hopelessness of the youth. As Councilman Michael Tubbs speaks to 6-year-olds in a school classroom in Stockton, Calif., he realizes that every child in the class has known someone who was a victim of violence. Smith spoke to former prison inmates about the conditions they face. She spoke to a student concerns specialist in a North Charleston, S.C. high school, a principal in a problematic Philadelphia high school, a journalist who covered the story of a 14-year-old African-American girl who was tossed about in her classroom. Smith talked to Sherrilyn Ifill, the president and director-counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund Inc., and to Congressman John Lewis, who is of course known for his role in the Civil Rights Movement and whose stories she conveys in his words—stories about people who beat him all those decades ago coming to him to apologize.
This production manages to take you through so many emotions—anger, outrage, shock, disappointment, despair—but believe it or not, she masterfully ends this production looking at the real things that have happened in our society and the poor state of Blacks and Native Americans in this country, and leaves you with a glimmer of hope, a feeling that we can come together and begin to heal and move on. She unmasks the problems and makes one ask questions: What can we do about it? How can we let this go on?
When you sit in the audience you will find yourself in tears, as was everyone in the audience I sat with. Smith beautifully, powerfully and compassionately captures the issues going on in society and makes you realize they can’t be ignored. You also get the sense that every subject she covers is something that is close to her heart. They show her concern for this generation of youth, who appear to have no hope. They show her concern for the blatant police brutality that is happening to African-American males and is not being punished. You feel her outrage.
“Notes From the Field” is playing at Second Stage Theatre, Tony Kiser Theatre on West 43rd Street and features music by Marcus Shelby and stunning direction by Leonard Folia. Any time you can see Smith perform, you should rush to have the life-impacting experience!
For more information, visit www.2st.com.