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Theatre Preview

Duke University Institute of the Arts Preview: Actress/Playwright Anna Deveare Smith Shares Her Latest Insights at Duke

February 7, 2003 - Durham, NC:

The weather outside is frightful. What could be more delightful than to spend An Evening with Anna Deveare Smith?

The African-American dramatist, professor, performance artist, and 1996 MacArthur "Genius" Award winner's Page Auditorium appearance, sponsored by the Duke University Institute of the Arts and the Duke Women's Studies Program, will be a one-woman show in which the highly talented actress and playwright performs highlights from Fires in the Mirror (1992), Twilight Los Angeles, 1992 (1994), and her other plays that provide incisive and insightful commentaries on current events.

Smith's award-winning one-woman show, Fires in the Mirror, chronicled the riots in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, after a Jewish motorist accidentally ran over and killed an African-American child. Smith interviewed more than 50 witnesses to the killing of the child, the death of a Jewish scholar apparently stabbed in retaliation, and the subsequent riots. From those tape-recorded interviews, she created — and vividly portrayed — 26 characters. The show was runner-up for a Pulitzer Prize for Drama. It won an Obie Award, a Drama Desk Award, and the $10,000 Kesselring Prize.

Twilight Los Angeles, 1992 is the story of the Los Angeles riots that followed the initial acquittal of the four white police officers who stopped and beat African-American motorist Rodney King. The show earned two Tony® Award nominations, and it won an Obie Award, a Drama Desk Award, and an Outer Circle Critics Special Achievement Award.

(Editor's Note: The StreetSigns Center for Literature and Performance of Chapel Hill, North Carolina will perform Twilight Los Angeles, 1992 Feb. 19-March 2.)

Baltimore, Maryland native Anna Deavere Smith — her middle name is pronounced "da-veer" — will appear at Duke as part of a two-day symposium entitled Race and Gender in Global Perspective. The first Jean Fox O'Barr Symposium in Women's Studies asks, How does globalization affect women, minorities, and the poor?

Smith will portray a variety of characters from her plays in order to explore different people's ideas about race, gender, and class. "I look for the poem that a person has," she recently told the District of Columbia Chapter of the Association for Women in Communications. "So, when I am conducting an interview, I am waiting for the rest of a person's language to move out of the way for this poem to come forward."

Besides writing plays, Smith is best known for playing National Security Adviser Nancy McNally on the NBC television series The West Wing. She also teaches and appears in motion pictures, such as Philadelphia, Dave, and The American President.

"Smith has done a great thing," claims a profile in The New Yorker. "She has gone into this noisy republic and, combining the editorial skill of the biographer and the precision of the mimic, has brought onto the American stage the voices of the unheard."

"My sense is," Anna Deavere Smith told the AWC's D.C. Chapter, "that the American character lives not in one place or the other but in the gaps between the places, and in our struggle to be together in our differences. It lives not in what has been fully articulated but in what is in the process of being articulated, not in the smooth-sounding words but in the very moment that the smooth-sounding words fail us. It is alive right now. We might not like what we see, but in order to change it, we have to see it clearly."

The Duke University Institute of the Arts and the Duke Women's Studies Program present An Evening with Anna Deveare Smith Friday, Feb. 7, at 8 p.m. in Page Auditorium on West Campus in Durham, North Carolina. $20 ($12 students). 919/684-4444 or http://www.tickets.duke.edu/. http://www.duke.edu/web/dia/calendar.html or http://www.scils.rutgers.edu/~cybers/smith2.html* or http://www.duke.edu/womstud/.

[Corrected 2/9/03; *link deactivated as of 4/23/03.]