Last chance to catch the world premiere of House Arrest, First Edition, Anna Deavere Smith's new drama about the role of the presidency in the American psyche, as illustrated in the 1996 presidential race. The piece, by the author of Fires In The Mirror and Twilight: Los Angeles 1992, opened Nov. 19 at Arena Stage in Washington DC.
President Bill Clinton was one of the 300 people that Deavere Smith had initially interviewed during the research phase of the play. Because House Arrest is very much a work in progress that is "evolving and will continue to evolve" throughout its run (according to an explanatory statement issued by Arena Stage), audiences didn't know until the official opening night whether or not Clinton made the cut, and if in fact his words would be incorporated into the play. (They were.)
Unlike previous projects, in which Smith portrayed all of the roles in an extended monologue, the new work is a play with a cast of several characters.
The cast is as follows: Michi Barall, Lynette Dupre, Gail Grate, Pamela J. Gray, Ron Cephas Jones, Karen Kandel, Nicole Ari Parker, Reese Madigan, Alec Mapa, Frankie Muniz, Deirdre O'Connell, John Ortiz, Judy Reyes, Ivan Stamenov and Lee Thompson Young.
Production credits state "production conceived and realized by" Anna Deavere Smith, with Mark Rucker credited as director and Jim Lewis as dramaturge. The production has sets by Douglas Stein, costumes by Candice Donnelly, lighting by Scott Zielinski and music by Michael Gordon and Julia Wolfe. House Arrest, First Edition is a co-production of Arena and the Goodman Theatre in Chicago (where it will arrive in late 1998), the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles (April 16-May 31, 1998) and the Intiman Theatre in Seattle (June 1998).
The new play is the 16th in Smith's On the Road: A Search for American Character journalism/theatre series in which she closely studies a community or event, interviewing the primary participants, then embodying them and their arguments from all points of view in a series of interweaving monologues.
The two best-known works in the series to date have been Fires in the Mirror, about riots in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, N.Y., after a Jewish man struck a black youth with his car and killed him; and Twilight: Los Angeles 1992, about race riots in Los Angeles following the not-guilty verdict in the Rodney King beating case.
Explaining her decision to look into the presidential campaign, Smith said "I've gotten to the point in my search that I feel I now have to look to the nation's leadership as a critical part of that character."
Smith gave a glimpse into her process during the 1996 campaign itself when she filed a series of accounts of the Dole and Clinton campaigns, in her unique style, in Newsweek magazine.
For example, in the Sept. 9, 1996 issue, Smith captured some of the major and minor players in the 1996 Democratic National Convention in Chicago in their own self-revealing words. Smith quoted everyone from politician Jesse Jackson to author Studs Terkel to Dr. Gloria Jackson Bacon, a woman who runs a health clinic on the South Side of Chicago.
Smith says, in a preface to the Newsweek story, that she was inspired by learning that Jean Genet, Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs all attended the 1968 Democratic Convention in the same city.
For tickets and information, call (202) 488-3300.
Here's the remaining Arena Stage season schedule after House Arrest:
Uncle Vanya, Carol Rocamora translates Anton Chekhov's drama, directed by Arena's founding director, Zelda Fichandler. (Dec. 12-Jan. 18, 1998, opened Dec. 17).
A retired professor and his younger wife host friends and relations on their country estate, with numerous romantic triangles developing.
Dimly Perceived Threats To The System, by Jon Klein, directed by Wager (Jan. 23-March 15, 1998 opens Jan. 28).
A "pill-popping, ultra-caffienated domestic comedy about a nuclear family approaching meltdown."
Lovers And Executioners, by a disciple of Montfleury, translated/adapted by John Strand; dir: Kyle Donnelly. (Feb. 27-April 5, 1998, opens Jan. 28, 1998).
Cunning, cross-dressing Julie takes revenge on the husband who abandoned her on a desert island.
You Can't Take It With You, by Moss Hart & George S. Kaufman; Dir: Wager. (April 3-June 7, 1998 opens April 8, 1998).
Wager finishes his Arena years with a classic American comedy, populated by local Washington actors.
Black No More by Syl Jones, Dir: Tazewell Thompson. (May 8-June 7, 1998; Dir: May 13, 1998).
A co-production with MN's Guthrie Theatre, this zany satire is adapted from a 1931 comic novel by African-American writer, George Schuyler. During the Great Depression, a black physician invents the E-race-olator, guaranteed "to turn even the darkest colored man white as a sheet!" Not only does Max use the machine, he tries to marry a Southern belle -- and lead a Klan-like race organization.
For tickets ($21-$42; subscriptions $93-$301) and information on plays at Arena Stage on 6th & Maine Ave. In Washington D.C., call (202) 488-3300.