BWW Review: NOTES FROM THE FIELD - A Significant Discussion Of Systemic Racism
NOTES FROM THE FIELD by Anna Deveare Smith and currently playing at ZACH Theatre's Kleberg Stage is as impactful a piece of theatre as I believe I have ever witnessed.
Directed by Artistic Director Dave Steakley and presented by a team of four powerful actors, the production takes direct aim at, what likely is, the most shameful failing of modern America, systemic racism and the mass incarceration of people of color. Highlighted in a series of monologues, the text of the play is actual quotes from real people in what amounts to documentary theatre. But this show takes a further step by engaging the audience directly, breaking into discussion groups and talking about their feelings, encounters and thoughts with a community facilitator or one of the actors. The community conversation comes with a set of agreements: to be open minded, to be curious, to be brief, to speak for yourself and to step out of your comfort zone. This breaking of conventional theatrical rules I found to be impactful and innovative. While the break in the stage performance is definitely out of my personal comfort zone, it struck home the dire need we have to communicate with one another, to meet others face to face on common ground and to feel their humanity.
Dave Steakley masterfully stages the action on a sparse stage using only a few chairs and a single moving platform to enhance the nearly bare stage. Stephanie Busing's set design evokes the bars of a prison but those are transformed into light, powerful imagery indeed. Busing is also responsible for the projections that inform the audience as well as videos that we are familiar with; the beating of Freddie Gray at the hands of police and the murder of Walter Scott in South Carolina when he was shot in the back running away from a cop. Imagery that is so hard to watch but must be seen to begin the national dialogue that must take place. Often the projections act as an additional character within the production and evokes a deep response in the audience. The cast of four actors playing multiple roles, are stellar indeed. Michelle Alexander commands the stage, her emotional range, striking and real. Zell Miller, III, shows us why he was inducted into the Austin Arts Hall Of Fame in 2017. His presence is pure magnetism and raw emotion. Carla Nickerson, is charismatic and touches our hearts with her commanding storytelling. But it's Kriston Woodreaux that impressed me above the rest of the ensemble cast. I have watched him grow as an actor these last several years through several productions here in Austin. His command of his craft has grown with each role and it has been a joy to watch him mature into the actor he is today. Woodreaux's rousing sermon as Pastor Jamal-Harrison Bryant taken from Freddie Gray's funeral, brought me to sobs. Together the four actors make a powerful team with a message that should be required viewing for everyone.
I urge you to step out of your comfort zone and be inspired to begin your own conversation on racism in America. If you are hesitant, fearing an 'In Your Face' experience, this production is certainly not that. You can opt out of the group discussion if you choose, it's all up to you. If attend, and you should, be prepared for a one of a kind experience.
NOTES FROM THE FIELD
ZACH Theatre, Kleberg Stage
February 27 - March 31
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours with one 15 minute intermission, due to discussion groups running time may vary.
Tickets: $30 - $78, zachtheatre.org