Acclaimed for her solo performances that examine topical events and how they change ordinary people's lives, Anna Deavere Smith (Fires in the Mirror, Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992) will present her latest, House Arrest: An Introgression, as a "work-in-progress" at L.A.'s Mark Taper Forum, April 9-18.
Part play, part civic discussion, House Arrest looks at U.S. presidencies and media. The Taper production will feature actors in a 90 minute first act, followed by a second act "conversation" in which the audience will be invited to comment on what they just saw and heard. As with other Smith works, the first act is based on a set of over 300 interviews. Smith spoke with elected officials, political operatives, journalists -- and had an interview in the Oval Office with Bill Clinton. Smith attempts to contextualize contemporary media coverage of the presidency and the impeachment trial with other presidents' dealings with the press, including Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt.
The second act, dubbed "an introgression," will allow author/director Smith and other cast members discuss the issues presented in the play with audience members and guest moderators. Moderators scheduled to appear include: Warren Olney, Rabbi Laura Geller, L.A. Human Relations Commissioner executive director Joe Hicks, L.A. Times columnist Patt Morrison, Arianna Huffington, former Clinton press secretary Dee Dee Myers, TV producer Norman Lear and state Sen. Tom Hayden, among others.
In this case, Smith wants to put herself in the position of learning from the audience, just as the audience normally hopes to absorb insights from the playwright and players.
House Arrest was originally planned as a full production instead of a work-in-progress. An earlier version was presented at Arena Stage in Washington, DC in 1997. A few months later, however, the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke, and the show has been repeatedly postponed and revised. Smith and Taper artistic director Gordon Davidson finally decided to present the work in a relatively unpolished form that would allow for audience feedback. For tickets or more information on House Arrest call (213) 628-2772.
-- By Sean McGrath and Willard Manus