Dynamic acting fuels Outfit’s ‘Fires in the Mirror’

January LaVoy co-directs and stars in Theatrical Outfit's one-woman show "Fires in the Mirror," live-streaming through June 27.
Courtesy of Courtney Greever-Fries
Caption
January LaVoy co-directs and stars in Theatrical Outfit's one-woman show "Fires in the Mirror," live-streaming through June 27. Courtesy of Courtney Greever-Fries

Credit: Courtney Greever-Fries

Credit: Courtney Greever-Fries

One-woman show recounts tragic events through multiple points of view.

Playwright Anna Deavere Smith’s documentary theater piece “Fires in the Mirror,” subtitled “Crown Heights, Brooklyn and Other Identities,” chronicles a tragic 1991 incident in the neighborhood that involved a seven-year-old Black boy from Guyana, who was struck and killed by one of the cars in a motorcade transporting the local leader of an Orthodox Jewish sect.

The questionable traffic accident — and its (mis)handling by the New York City police and the state judicial system — inflamed certain preexisting racial conditions and class conflicts between the two communities. In the not-so-peaceful protests that ensued, a group of young Black men later fatally stabbed a 29-year-old Hasidic scholar who was visiting from Australia.

Smith originally conceived the play as a solo show to be performed by herself (which she did off-Broadway). She conducted interviews with an admirable array of people with opposing opinions about the specific details, and also on the broader political and cultural context in which they unfolded. The result is a script including more than two dozen exceedingly well-researched and decidedly even-handed monologues.

Some of the commentators are better known than others, but some of their observations are rather far removed from or only indirectly related to the actual Crown Heights events: activist Angela Davis speaking about the Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill Senate hearings; stage director George C. Wolfe reflecting on his childhood memory of seeing the animated Disney movie “101 Dalmatians” in a segregated theater; or the Rev. Al Sharpton revealing that his flamboyant hairstyle at the time was inspired by James Brown.

Offering additional tangents: Playwright Ntozake Shange defines identity as a “psychic sense of place”; Black Studies college professor Leonard Jeffries shares anecdotes about consulting with Alex Haley on his best-selling novel “Roots,” and about the contractual disputes Haley had with the Jewish producers of the TV miniseries version of his book; and L.A. rapper Monique “Big Mo” Matthews opines about her feminist views of the music industry.

Theatrical Outfit's live-streaming production of "Fires in the Mirror" features January LaVoy.
Courtesy of Courtney Greever-Fries
Caption
Theatrical Outfit's live-streaming production of "Fires in the Mirror" features January LaVoy. Courtesy of Courtney Greever-Fries

Credit: Courtney Greever-Fries

Credit: Courtney Greever-Fries

“Fires in the Mirror” feels most meaningful and purposeful focusing on the immediate issues and matters at hand in 1991 Brooklyn: Sharpton, for instance, reappears later to much greater effect, raging against a “double standard” when it comes to “equal protection under the law”; Rabbi Joseph Spielman, differentiating between the incident that claimed the Black child’s life and the “malicious intent” that resulted in “retaliation” against the Jewish academic; or Jewish civil servant Michael Miller, describing the young boy’s funeral as a “political rally.”

Of course, the most amazing aspect of the drama is that all these disparate characters are so vividly interpreted by a single performer. In the case of Theatrical Outfit’s live-streaming rendition (continuing through June 27), that would be January LaVoy — an actress with an impressive resume of regional theater credits (including the Alliance’s 2014 “Native Guard”), and a recent addition to the faculty of the Emory University theater department. She also co-directs the play with Adam Immerwahr (artistic director of Theatre J in Washington, D.C.).

Featuring videography by Felipe Barral, who also shot the Alliance’s prerecorded holiday show “A Very Terry Christmas,” and projections and lighting designed by Bradley Bergeron, the Outfit’s latest streaming production is not without a few technical glitches. But with an acting talent of LaVoy’s caliber front and center, the inherent emotion of the material shines through with a transcending power. Whether as the grief-stricken father of one victim, or the contemplative brother of the other, she rings resoundingly and utterly true.

THEATER REVIEW

“Fires in the Mirror”

Live streaming through June 27. 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 2:30 p.m. Sundays. Links range from $23.30 (for individual access) to $34.80 (for group access), and $11.60 (for students). 678-528-1500, www.theatricaloutfit.org.

Bottom line: A bravura one-woman drama starring and co-directed by January LaVoy.