Citizen: An American Lyric is fearless in its confrontation of racism in America

By Mara Capati

China Young, Gianbari Deebom, Myron Crowe, Myani Watson, and Zachary Austin photo cred to Tim Fuller

“This piece reminds audiences that there is always an opportunity to humble oneself and accept that the pain of another person is not always something that we can personally identify with. However, we can validate, listen, and believe that person’s truth…”

Based on the award-winning book Citizen: An American Lyric, by Claudia Rankine, this play is poetry adapted for the stage by Stephen Sachs. The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre presents this play in partnership with The University of Arizona Poetry Center. The play boldly portrays the internal anguish of black people and black communities through a “poetry in motion” display of personal experiences with both microaggressions and overt racism. This piece provides necessary insight into the pain and trauma imposed on the individual when careless biases and prejudice exerts control over the conversation and social expectation of how black individuals should or should not respond to their own oppression. It not only forces the dominant culture to confront their own biases and/or unintentional contributions to racism in America, but also validates the truth of black individuals and people of color everywhere whose personal understanding of their place in the world has been forever affected or questioned because of the oppressive treatment of minority populations by the dominant culture in American society.

The stage design and art exhibit embody the creative techniques and stories of black artists and experiences. Simple but powerful silhouettes frame the stage area, while the lobby and walkway leading into the mainstage, tell the story of black lives and their journey through historical struggles and injustices, thus creating a fully immersive experience for the audience. The music direction by Kevin Hamilton also aids this storytelling with a beautiful selection of black voices and songs.

Director Dawn McMillan successfully delivers a piece that is as visually, linguistically, and conceptually challenging as it is timelessly relevant and provocative in the current climate of calls for social justice in America. One might ask or wonder if this is a political piece. But in truth it is an autobiography; the factual experience of many; an old spiritual sung by the broken hearts of a thousand souls, and their ancestors before them. All of the actors take on the role of “citizens” in this play and each character gracefully and soulfully embodies the mind and internal dialogue of the oppressed individual or a member of “white society” or the dominant culture. Actors weave effortlessly through these very intense interactions and at times even uncomfortable confrontations that call out or bring attention to the microaggressions and racism occurring in everyday society.  There is a rawness and vulnerability required of these actors to truly bare the genuine anguish of the oppressed individual and I applaud this cast for being able to do this so effectively. 

This piece reminds audiences that there is always an opportunity to humble oneself and accept that the pain of another person is not always something that we can personally identify with. However, we can validate, listen, and believe that person’s truth and their adverse experiences. Further, we can begin a discussion on how we can improve ourselves in our judgments, actions, and efforts to provide safe and equal spaces for oppressed individuals. Understanding one’s role in society from a power and control perspective and cultural perspective is incredibly important to foster positive awareness. Even as a person of color, I am reminded by this piece that there are intersectional aspects of my being, that have both given me privilege and that have oppressed me. When someone has not experienced racism or oppression due to their cultural or racial identity, it is difficult to truly understand or resonate with the adverse experiences of these individuals. I think that this production can especially impact those individuals because this type of heartbreak is a niche horror that they will only witness secondhand, and witness it in Citizen: An American Lyric, they will.
The show’s final weekend runs May 26th-May 29th, Thursday – Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre, 738 N. 5th Avenue, Suite 131.  Tickets are $15 – $30 with student, teacher, senior, and theater artist discounts available. Tickets can be purchased at https://scoundrelandscamp.org/citizen-an-american-lyric. The box office can be reached at 520-448-3300, or by email at boxoffice@scoundrelandscamp.org. S&S is requiring all patrons to wear masks inside and to show proof of vaccination or proof of a negative COVID test at the time of entry.

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