Devastating. Phenomenal. Inspired. Those are truly the first words that came to mind when Anna Deavere Smith finished her two hour exploration of the education to incarceration pipeline that exists in modern America. The detail and depth of this dissertation is epic and powerful. To widdle this piece down to a few sentences feels like a disservice to her, and to us. In essence, Smith portrays an assortment of characters based on interviews with more than 200 people living and working within this country’s challenged education and prison system. She personifies these real life counterparts in order to inform and reveal the truth.
Created, written and performed by Smith with music composed and performed by Marcus Shelby, and directed by Leonard Foglia, the expanse and detail of the topic is mind blowing and emotional. Tears trickle down my face as numerous souls describe their desires, their hope, and their frustrations about the present day obstacles for change and enlightenment. Here are the personal accounts of students, parents, teachers and administrators caught in America’s school-to-prison pipeline describing a hopeless generation of American youth and their almost impossible struggle to get out. Through the spectacular work by Riccardo Hernandez (scenic design), Ann Hould-Ward (costume design), Howell Binkley (lighting design), Leon Rothenberg (sound design), and most dramatically Elaine McCarthy (projection design), we are thrust deep inside a justice system that pushes poor disenfranchised minors from schools into prisons. Informing and pushing our buttons with the creative and dynamic use of video, imagery, quotes, music, and personal accounts. Personally, I’ve always believed in the power of education as the path forward and upward. Maybe it’s the Canadian in me, but the depth of this darkness enveloping America is truly upsetting to bare witness to, laid out so simply and masterfully before us.