Created, written, and performed by Anna Deavere Smith;
Directed by Leonard Foglia
Produced by Second Stage Theatre and American Repertory Theatre
Off Broadway, Solo Show
Runs through 12.18.16
Second Stage Theatre, 305 West 43rd Street
by Helen Herbert on 12.6.16
Anna Deavere Smith in Notes From the Field. Photo by Joan Marcus.
BOTTOM LINE: A powerful new work that gives voice to the victims of the low-income public education system.
In Notes From the Field, revered storyteller and playwright Anna Deavere Smith returns to her hometown of Baltimore, where she lived until she was 15, to explore the ever-present school-to-prison pipeline epidemic. Known for her highly acclaimed one-person productions Fires in the Mirror, Twilight: Los Angeles, and Let Me Down Easy, Smith again embodies the words of witnesses close to a conflict and illuminates the heart of an issue. In Notes From the Field her focus is on the systematic imprisonment of young black, Hispanic and Native American children who are arrested for minor offenses beginning at a very early age. Drawing from hundreds of in-person interviews that she conducted, Smith performs first-person accounts from parents, school administrators, political figures and activists—from Congressman John Lewis to Kevin Moore, the bystander who filmed the Freddie Gray arrest.
Smith is, without pretense, brilliant. Her passion, attention, and commitment to each speaker’s essence is unwavering. As a creator and playwright, Smith has drawn out the poetry of each individual's perspective with the utmost respect and dignity. Each piece could easily stand alone, but together brings a prescription for improving the direction of our country as a whole. Through eighteen monologues, she covers the widest expanse of the human condition with admirable endurance; from deep despair to full-bodied laughter and delight. In many of the monologues, the piercingly honest questions that Smith has asked each subject can be heard through their answers. For example, asking Taos Proctor, a former inmate, “What do you see when you look in the mirror?” elicits a deeply poignant response that resonates with all of us.
Directer Leonard Foglia effectively heightens Smith’s signature bare feet and bare stage approach with projections of recent videos documenting the mistreatment of people of color in this country. Each video projection by designer Elaine McCarthy not only offers a short respite for Smith to change characters, but also provides a context for the next witness account to follow. Foglia balances the heaviness of the subject matter with the dulcet tones of composer and bassist Marcus Shelby, who was commissioned by Smith to compose original music for the production and appears onstage throughout.
Notes From the Field is a stellar production and a true example of the power of activism and theatre in action. While the discussion about race disparity in Notes From the Field is far from finished, Smith leaves us with a strong sense of hope and the courage to not mind our business when we witness injustice, but to make it our business.
(Notes From the Field plays at Second Stage, 305 West 43rd Street, through December 18, 2016. The show running time is 2 hours and 30 mins, with one intermission. Performances are Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays at 7; Fridays at 8; Saturdays at 2 and 8; and Sundays at 3. Tickets are $107 and are available by calling Second Stage Theatre at 212-541-4516 or online by visiting 2st.com.)
Notes From the Field is created, written and performed by Anna Deavere Smith. It is directed by Leonard Foglia. It is produced by Second Stage Theatre and American Repertory Theatre, as part of The Anna Deavere Smith Pipeline Project. Music composed and performed by Marcus Shelby. Scenic Design by Ricardo Hernandez. Costume Design by Ann Hould-Ward. Lighting Design by Howell Binkley. Sound design by Leon Rothenberg. Projection Design by Elaine McCarthy. Dialect Coach is Amy Stoller. Production Stage Manager is Michelle Bosch. Stage Managed by Brendan Fay.
The cast is Anna Deavere Smith and Marcus Shelby.