Zach’s Notes From the Field: Theater for Real People

Notes from the Field, Anna Deavere Smith’s awarding-winning play, wrenches your heart, illuminates humanity and provides proof that change is in the wind. The show, which has an all-black cast, continues on Zach Theatre’s Kleberg stage through March 31. 

Playwright Anna Deveare Smith

Smith interviewed 250 people across the country. These were the folks impacted by police brutality, the school to prison pipeline and systemic racism. The words spoken in the play are the verbatim responses to the playwright’s questions. These monologues illustrate how incursions against communities not only lead to tragedy but also motivate people to fight back in heroic and meaningful ways.

You may remember the videos of the Freddie Gray beating or the teenager Shakara being manhandled in her classroom. The footage alone doesn’t come close to revealing the lives of these people the way this show does.

Under the deft direction of Dave Steakley, the actors Michelle Alexander, Zell Miller, III, Carla Nickerson, and Kriston Woodreaux, don’t perform as much as let the souls of the people they represent borrow their bodies for the night. Each of them disappears into the accents, mannerisms, and gaits of the 16 people whose stories they tell.

The cast: Kriston Woodreaux, Michelle Alexander, Carla Nickerson, Zell Miller, III

When Miller speaks as Kevin Moore, the brave soul who videotaped the Freddie Gray beating, you feel his dismay and frustration as he asks how a man could break his own back.

Standing in for Pastor Jamal-Harrison Bryant, who delivers the sermon at Gray’s funeral, Woodreaux rouses the spirit and heart. Had there been more blacks in the audience I am sure we would have joined the refrain: No justice, no peace.

One of the show’s moments of humor is Carla Nickerson’s portrayal of Leticia De Santiago, a mother who explains how geese were her early warning system. Their honking alerted her when teenaged children tried to sneak out at night.

The sight of Bree Newsom climbing a flagpole to remove the Confederate flag is even more thrilling after Michelle Alexander explains the work and resources that made the feat possible. The happiness on Alexander’s face makes you feel like you too were part of that triumph.

The bare black stage supports the belief that these real-life people appear to us from various places. A few chairs and a moving riser distinguish one set from another. Screens hung at angles above the actors’ heads display video clips and titles through the six segments of the production.

In the middle of the second act, the actors divide the audience into small groups to discuss the play and the issues it addresses. You don’t have to participate, but I encourage you to listen.

Notes from the Field allows the voiceless to finally have their say. Their words are proof that people can not endure injustice forever. They take stands, fight back, and salve the wounded in their own communities. Purchase tickets at the Zach website.

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