Citizen: An American Lyric premiered at the Fountain Theatre in 2015, was remounted at Culver City’s Kirk Douglas Theatre as part of Center Theatre Group’s Block Party in 2017, was chosen by the Music Center to represent Los Angeles theater at the 2018 Our L.A. Voices “Best of L.A.” arts festival, and has since been produced at theaters across the country. In response to current events and in solidarity with #BlackLivesMatter, “the times have called us, once again,” says playwright Sachs, who is also the Fountain’s artistic director. “Citizen is a powerful, meaningful way for the Fountain to continue adding our voice to the national conversation.”
To accomplish that goal, on June 7 the Fountain Theatre presented a live online reading of Stephen Sachs’ critically acclaimed, award-winning stage adaptation of Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric which offers a compelling portrait of racism in America. The production, brilliantly directed by Shirley Jo Finney who was at the helm of all three L.A. productions, continues to be streamed on the Fountain Theatre’s YouTube channel. Featured in the cast are original members Bernard K. Addison, Leith Burke, Tony Maggio, Monnae Michaell and Lisa Pescia, joined by Adenrele Ojo, with the webinar produced by James Bennett.
Throughout history, theatre has provided a universal means of presenting the truth about society to its viewers, teaching lessons while entertaining and promoting discussion afterwards. This stage adaptation of Rankine’s National Book Critics Circle award-winning book of poetry offers the American public a way to see itself in this intensely provocative and unapologetic rumination on the underlying pressures of “living while black” in America. And now, following the recent death of George Floyd, and with so much media attention being paid to the ongoing, unintentional, seemingly every day acts of racism that exist in our society, I encourage you to watch Citizen with your children and start a conversation about what it means to treat all people equally and fairly without regard to race, religion, or sexual orientation.
This provocative mediation on race features six “citizens” interacting with each other to present a lyric poem, snapshots, and vignettes along with remarks, glances, implied judgments, seeming slips of the tongue, as well as intentional offensives in the classroom, supermarket, at home, sporting events, online, in movies and on TV, all of which reenact acts of everyday racism which persist in American society. Brilliant edited so the story flows from episodic scene to scene, a variety of characters demonstrate how even the most innocuous of comments can reveal the underlying attitudes which keep racial judgments in place.
And thanks to the talented actors, facial expressions often say even more than the character’s words, reflecting their disbelief at “did-that-really-just-happen-did-they-really-just-say-that” slurs which permeate modern society. As such, I hope Citizen: An American Lyric will remind viewers about what changes must take place to move us forward, and that speaking up for equality in our society and the justice system, as Rankine writes, “is how you are a citizen.” Please tune in and remember to #Vote2020.