It’s been 30 years since the Crown Heights riots — three days of violent conflict between Lubavitcher Jews and their Black neighbors in Brooklyn — yet the issues they raised about racial bias in policing and discrimination in health care remain as pressing today as they were in 1991. Thanks to Anna Deavere Smith’s Fires in the Mirror: Crown Heights, Brooklyn and Other Identities, a documentary play which comes to Zoom this weekend in an exciting new production by the UCSB Department of Theater, the voices, gestures, and perspectives of those involved remain available to us as tiles in a theatrical mosaic full of wisdom and pain, knowledge and suffering.
Adapting what began as an in-person solo performance into something suitable for seven actors on Zoom gave director Risa Brainin a chance to guide each of her cast members toward the cascading impact first embodied by the show’s originator. For Harry Davis (UCSB BFA 2021), the task of playing more than one role reminded him of a metaphor in the script. In the same way that “a good telescope uses a large lens to take in a lot of light,” Fires in the Mirror gathers 26 points of view into a single sharp focus. Fellow cast member Rosslyn Cornejo (UCSB BFA 2019) portrays five characters, including Ntozake Shange and the Reverend Al Sharpton. She credits Smith’s visits to the show’s Zoom rehearsals with inspiring her to dig deep into the physicality of her various roles, adding that Smith insisted to everyone involved that the show should move audiences from understanding to action. Cornejo told me that the question she would like to see people asking themselves after seeing Fires in the Mirror is “not so much ‘what did that mean?’ as it is ‘what can I do?’”
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