BWW Review: Sound Theatre's Searing Look at Racial Inequality in America with CITIZEN: AN AMERICAN LYRIC

BWW Review: Sound Theatre's Searing Look at Racial Inequality in America with CITIZEN: AN AMERICAN LYRIC
Nicholas Japaul Bernard (center) and the cast of
Citizen: An American Lyric
from Sound Theatre Company.
Photo credit: Jovelle Tamayo

Sound Theatre Company, with their season theme of "Un-Erasable" focusing on diversity and "hyper invisibility" of some in America, have started off their season with a stunning piece, "Citizen: An American Lyric" based on the poetry of Claudia Rankine and adapted for the stage by Stephen Sachs. But beyond keying in perfectly to their theme and kicking off the season with a bang, they've coincidentally presented a piece that has tremendous resonance to what's happening in the news today, with the incidents between Serena Williams and Billie Jean King as well as Hurricane Barry in New Orleans giving an all too harrowing reminder of the events of Hurricane Katrina.

The piece takes an unflinching look at racial inequality and invisibility in America. Six actors, Shermona Mitchell, Allyson Lee Brown, Naa Akua, Nicholas Japaul Bernard, Rebecca Cort, and Richard Sean Glen take the stage to present vignettes based on and using the words of Rankine's poetry. From egregious social missteps from white people in regard to black people to the cloud of mistrust that some see surrounding any person of color to the inexcusable hate crimes committed against people solely due to the color of their skin, "Citizen" uses spoken word, stylized movement, and multi-media on stage to convey the injustice that far too many people of color face on a daily basis. And as I said, many of the vignettes ring quite true to stories currently in the news as they spotlight the treatment of Serena Williams over her career as well as a look into the tragic events that occurred during and after Hurricane Katrina.

The 75-minute piece as directed by Jay O'Leary is incredibly tight with not an ounce of wasted time or space. The sparse set from Lex Marcos allows us to focus on each of the actors, as accentuated brilliantly by the lighting from Richard Schaefer and the amazing projection design from Tristan Roberson, as they tell their stories. Stories that may be from Rankine's book but are obviously quite personal from the assembled cast as well.

Each of the four African American Citizens in the piece, Mitchell, Brown, Akua, and Bernard have their individual moments to shine as they are assisted and often times persecuted by the characters of the two white actors, Cort and Glen. And while Cort and Glen ably handle that support, the stand outs are of course the main four of the piece. Brown's portrayal of the struggles of Tennis great Serena Williams is exceptional. The retelling of the murder of James Craig Anderson from Akua was quite powerful and affecting. As was Bernard's staggering portrayal of "America, let loose on America" as he recounts being pulled over and arrested by the police for no other crime than not being that guy, but fitting the description of guy, because "there is only one guy". And the monologue at the end of the piece from the always astonishing Mitchell is worth the price of admission alone.

This is certainly not an easy show to be faced with, especially as a white person, but the stories need to be told and told and told until we stop getting new stories. And when told like this, the bitter pill goes down a lot easier. And so, with my three-letter rating system, I give Sound Theatre Company's production of "Citizen: An American Lyric" a resounding YAY. A striking work from some very gifted professionals.

"Citizen: An American Lyric" from Sound Theatre Company performs at the Center Theater through July 28th. For tickets or information visit them online at

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From This Author Jay Irwin