Anna Deavere Smith's latest effort at the Mark Taper Forum is part play, part community event. House Arrest, her work-in-progress study of U.S. presidencies and media, 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.
House Arrest will open April 9 and will run through April 18 only. It is based on a new set of Smith interviews and source materials, focusing on the presidencies of Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Bill Clinton -- and the way those men were treated by the press.
Smith is directing this part of the show and will join 12 other actors on stage in performing it.
The production as a whole is the brainchild of Smith, the artist who previously brought to Taper audiences her Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992, a solo performance in which she portrayed a number of people she had interviewed about the 1992 riots after the Rodney King verdict.
Smith calls that participation an "introgression," which is a "biological term describing what happens when species leave natural habitats and move onto others' turf...with the implication that something will happen to both species." In this case, she said, she 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. But a few months later, 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.
The list of moderators at various performances includes 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.
When asked whether Monica Lewinsky would participate, Kramer said, "a forum is best shaped when many voices are heard and no one person dominates. It should be a shared experience, in a non-touchy-feely way that leaves us thinking. It's not about whether a particular voice is in the room."
Call (213) 628-2772 for information.
-- By Willard Manus
Southern California Correspondent