Impressions by Anna Deavere Smith

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Anna Deavere Smith takes her audience on a journey through her colorful impressions of interviews that show how different individuals are 'getting through the day.'


Her very plain stage,

Anna Deavere Smith performed something like a stand-up routine at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts with little more than a microphone and black, humble clothing. She is not meant to be watched as much as listened to, and indeed this could easily be a radio performance. The characters she introduces each come with a distinct voice to convey their personality, if seeming to be something of a caricature. This degree removed from a documentary film's method, typically to feature their interviews as a direct reading or in-person, is something jarring at first but at the least is long-form and encompasses an entire story start to finish. Documentary films tend to fragment their interviews to be scattered where editing deemed appropriate rather than a single sitting.

I said stand up routine, and it is funny at times, but the tone shifts happen quickly between recollections or stories of violence and humor. I was left wondering at times if her comical impressions were meant to be laughed at even as they recalled violent confusion or immediately following an anecdote about murders. It can also be I am just too much a stick in the mud to laugh at someone, albeit through a proxy, telling their stories of 'getting through the day,' especially as it culminated to a heart-string-tugging anecdote by Congressman John Lewis meeting a man who once attacked him during the Civil Rights Movement.

My ticket and program, in which I wrote notes. I did not find a child’s program to take, suggesting this show was for adults only. Luckily, I am one.

Her Question and Answers forum immediately following the show helped illuminate to me some of these design decisions surrounding her act. Smith hoped to 'disrupt' the passive observance behavior by her audience. The most obvious incarnation of this method was through inviting the audience to sing the first verse of Amazing Grace, consistent with her overall theme of 'grace' in a Christian sense of the term.'

It seemed a schmuck opted to leave their drink here behind a bench rather than return it to the bar

This aim to disrupt is also part of her presentation style, as she sought individuals with 'musical' accents or demenours that excite the audience. This hopefully helps the audience feel touched by the stories made 'evident' through her retelling. I do not know if she succeeded with me so much as I spent my experience simply trying to absorb whether I thought she was denigrating the persons she impersonated or honored them. Maybe not attempting to impersonate their accents would have been more insulting or untrue, but I did not manage to shake a discomforted feeling, perhaps validating that I am uptight and her impression of me would fit nicely in her performance.

The green was my choice this evening, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.

This time, I managed to fit a dinner in just 10 minutes before the performance. The green IPA was my choice for the night. It proved itself far superior than any other beer I had enjoyed this semester from Krannert. However, I did not have the opportunity to properly enjoy it as I attempted to chug it down just before the show started which I am sure provided a flattering image of myself to any of my table-neighbors. I was very hungry, though, and should I have not rushed a dinner, my attention during the show would have been dominated entirely by my hope to attain a huge McDonalds order once it ended.

Are these shelves new? I swear I’ve never seen one before.

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