BWW Review: THE PECULIAR PATRIOT at Woolly Mammoth
The first words that come to mind when thinking about The Peculiar Patriot at Woolly Mammoth Theatre are: riveting, eye-opening, and deeply personal.
The Peculiar Patriot, written and performed by Liza Jessie Peterson and directed by Talvin Wilks, is told from the perspective of Betsy LaQuanda Ross, as she discusses and immerses you in her journey as a regular prison visitor. Her pursuit is to be there for her friends and loved ones who are incarcerated. The Peculiar Patriot touches on the harsh reality of the prison system in the United States, particularly, the injustices in relation to race that occur and how this affects those incarcerated, their loved ones, and their visitors. The play leaves you feeling angry towards said injustices; however, you also feel inspired to enact change. It's extremely insightful.
The play's presentation is unique and quite fitting in the sense that it is a one woman show performed by its writer Liza Jessie Peterson, as previously stated. It achieves a perfect blend of comedy and reality. Ms. Peterson's performance is nothing less than extraordinary. She has a gift of being able to connect with each audience member, making them feel as if they are a part of a conversation. The presentation of this show, being a one woman show, allowed for a more personal experience and a deeper intake and reflection of what Ms. Peterson had to say. Ms. Peterson's exceptional writing allowed for the audience to digest Ms. Ross' stories and better understand the issues at hand. The combined elements of Ms. Peterson's writing, her exuberant passion and her heart behind the performance resulted in a transformative theatrical experience.
Andrew Cissna's simple, yet pertinent scenic design transport us to a prison that Ms. Ross was visiting at one point. Cissna's minimalistic design and Katherine Freer's exceptional projections allowed to understand and engage with our setting, without distracting from the performance as a whole. And once again, Cissna hit it right again, with his impressive lighting design, as the lighting worked effectively, shifting the mood from comedy to solemnity, as well as shifting in and out of the prison setting between handwritten letters and character portrayals.
It seemed Ms. Peterson knew exactly what to do and why she wanted to do it, as it is her play. However, the direction by Talvin Wilks definitely stood out. Mr. Wilks did an outstanding job bringing these stories to life and allowing the audience to stay engaged and focused on what we were hearing. His expertise in guiding Ms. Peterson to find variety in vocals, body language, and placing her emotions correctly, all to portray the identities of people that inspired Ms. Ross' stories, was apparent and impressive. Mr. Wilks' direction was a job well done.
The Peculiar Patriot is an absorbing theatrical experience that allows you experience laughter, anger, inspiration, and hope all in one. The team of Liza Jessie Peterson and Talvin Wilks mend together to create a stellar production on one of the most important and least talked about issues in America: our flawed justice system.
Total Run Time: 90 Minutes (no intermission)
The Peculiar Patriot at Woolly Mammoth Theatre runs until April 20.
Ticket information can be found here: https://www.woollymammoth.net/event/peculiar-patriot
Photo credits of Christine Jean Chambers and Teresa Castracane