|Nicholas Japaul Bernard in Citizen - An American Lyric (Jovelle Tamayo)|
Citizen – An American Lyric
Sound Theatre Company and The Hansberry Project
Through July 28.2019
“Because just getting along shouldn’t be an ambition.” That was a microphone-dropping moment among many in this event.
This “event,” a cooperative mounting of a dramatization of the book, Citizen – An American Lyric (written by Claudia Rankine and adapted for the stage by Stephen Sachs) by Sound Theatre Company and The Hansberry Project, demands attention and for every possible seat to be filled! I’m naming it an event rather than a “play” because it is a string of poetic narratives that are more like stones in a path or knots in a long rope.
It is performed here by a tightly woven team of six performers who are called upon to both intone and emote through a complex dance of emotions that taxes every person in the room. Calling something “poetic” might cause you to shy away or decide – as many decide about poetry from unfortunate exposures in schools – that it’s destined to be “boring.” That would be tragically wrong.
This is a fire-cracker of an event. It burns like a smoldering log kicked out of the campfire, alone on the beach, left to smolder.
Four “black” actors and two “white” ones intone example after example of racist comments or snide remarks, now retermed “microagressions.” It’s not that the impact is “micro” but it’s more the size of the comment or interaction.
This event lays out in stark relief what it feels like to receive the comments: hear the question of a cashier about whether your credit card will clear when not asking your friend the same question, see the reaction of a professional who sees you for the first time and blurts out, “I didn’t know you were black.”
A signature example of how this world society functions with racist structure is in the story of Serena Williams. To those who pay attention, the tennis world has had a very difficult relationship with a black superstar who, if she were pale-skinned, would easily be lauded for being the best of the best against every other sport. The piece details her difficulties with umpires making calls that cost her games and penalized her for behaviors that were unnoted by many other (white) players.
There are many moments and examples (pictures of the black faces of Hurricane Katrina). A man is stopped by police for an unknown reason, but what he knows is that “you are not the guy and still you fit the description because there is only one guy who is always the guy fitting the description.”
Shermona Mitchell, Allyson Lee Brown, Naa Akua, Nicholas Japaul Bernard, Rebecca Cort, and Richard Sean Glen, under the direction of Jay O’Leary, execute the 70-75 minute event with precision and clarity. With incisive video projection designed by Tristan Roberson, the event is sensory overload and a battering ram to an open heart.
If you have ever tried to put yourself into someone else’s shoes and have not been able to imagine what racism feels like, this event might help you understand. If you are a person of color, this event affirms your right to feel anger and calls out others for labeling anger as an “insane” response. (Talkbacks after every incendiary performance.)
For the record, it’s anything but “boring.”