First, thank you to Baltimore Center Stage for the chance to view live theater again in such strange times and the safety measures that are in place to keep people safe.
Fires in the Mirror is a story about the community of Crown Heights in Brooklyn, New York during the civil unrest involving the death of a seven-year-old black boy that was struck by a vehicle driven by a Jewish man in August 1991.
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t expecting much considering the premise and it being a one woman show, but I was happily surprised by my strong emotional reaction and how I could identify with some of the people in the story. Playwright, Anna Deavere Smith, conducted extensive interviews when writing this play to offer various perspectives on the events that occurred during that time. On the surface, this shouldn’t have been a spectacular event. Tragic, yes but not a catalyst for what transpired next. In the hands of the director, Nicole Brewer, it became a reflection of two marginalized communities trying to survive their biases while events boiled over and played out on the world stage.
The scenic designer, Diggie, did an amazing job with mixing two very different concepts and turning the stage into a thing of beauty. Baltimore Center Stage is currently giving tribute to the Native Americans the theater’s land belonged to prior to European colonization and in doing so created one of the more captivating sets I’ve been privileged to witness. Simple but breathtaking. The immersive quality with sound by Uptown Works and the soothing lighting by lighting designer, Porsche McGovern, allowed for your mind to be reflective and open. Even the screen projection designer, Camilla Tassi, was able to add stunning visuals to the story without being a distraction.
The show has two featured actresses, Khanisha Foster and Cloteal L. Horne, who switch off the role and at my showing we were gifted with Ms. Horne. This woman had to play 26 different characters and wow she has range. She gave you a Jewish woman discussing her difficulties with her radio during Shabbat to Al Sharpton sharing his story about his hair and what James Brown meant to him. She allowed the words and the lives of the people whose stories she was telling to shine. Down to her mannerisms and the costuming done by costume designer, Mikka Eubanks, each person took on their own brief life in this story telling. Kudos, Cloteal, kudos.
The task of telling so many viewpoints with such passion, such heat must be a complicated and overwhelming project to take on, but I am glad it was done. And it was done with grace, care, and respect to those who shared their stories. There were moments of discomfort when comparing the severity of the Holocaust to chattel slavery here in America but each moment was worth it for how much it made you think.
These stories show the shared histories of these people and their experiences within the African American and Jewish communities. Stories that aren’t always heard over angry voices. This play forces you to be silent while you listen to a voice other than your own. You may not always agree with what is being said but it’s another step closer to understanding the situation and the mindset that engulfed a community where 66 civilians and 168 officers were injured, 163 people were arrested and 1500 police officers were dispatched. This event, this story, needed to be told and it was told well. Even though there are some moments of humor, this is not a play to be taken lightly.
Khanisha Foster in ‘Fires in the Mirror Crown Heights, Brooklyn and Other Identities.’ Photo by J Fannon.
Even though 30 years have passed, this could have easily made it into today’s headlines. The lives of Gavin Cato, seven-year-old black child killed by the vehicle driven by Yosef Lifsh which in turn became the spark that lit the powder keg and Yankel Rosenbaum, the 29-year-old Jewish student that was stabbed which led to his death later than night in the hospital, that continued to fan the flames of discord and distrust in a community mired in pain and misunderstanding are honored in the reflection space and in this beautiful, honest, play.
This is a play that should be seen. It should be experienced.
4 Reflections out of 5
Posted in conjunction with DC Metro Theater Arts