She's explored racial unrest in such stage docudramas as Fires in the Mirror and Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992, both at The Public Theater, and now playwright performer Anna Deavere Smith brings her view of the American presidency, House Arrest, to The Public March 7-April 8.
Developed regionally over the past few years in forms that at one point included other actors in a cast, House Arrest now features just Smith, directed Jo Bonney. This New York debut explores the mythic idea of the American presidency, drawing on research and interviews with historians, journalists, President Bill Clinton, former presidents Bush and Carter, and others. Smith's research took her to Washington DC and on the campaign trail.
Official opening, at The Public's Newman Theater, is March 27. The title suggests that the president, under constant public scrutiny and held to standards few could live up to, is under a kind of "house arrest" in The White House.
Designers are Richard Hoover (set), Ann Hould-Ward (costume), Ken Travis (sound), Batwin+Robin (projection). Original music is by Julia Wolfe. As an actress, Smith has appeared in two presidential-based movies, "Dave" and "The American President." On stage, she created On the Road: A Search for American Character, Obie Award-winning Fires in the Mirror: Crown Heights, Brooklyn and Other Identities (about the 1991 clash between Jews and blacks in that New York neighborhood) and Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 (about the civil unrest after of the Rodney King beating incident).
Twilight transferred to Broadway after The Public and earned two Tony Award nominations. A film of the piece premiered at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year and will be broadcast on PBS.
Bonney's previous directing credit at The Public was Diana Son's Stop Kiss in 1998. She staged the recent revival of Look Back in Anger for Classic Stage and helmed the premieres of Eric Bogosian's Funhouse, Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll and Pounding Nails in the Floor With My Forehead.
Tickets for House Arrest are $45. The Public is at 425 Lafayette St. in Manhattan. Call (212) 239-6200 or visit the website at www.publictheater.org.
-- By Kenneth Jones