I went to see Liberty City last night, April Yvette Thompson’s multi-layered, one-person account of her upbringing in the infamous Miami neighborhood during the chaotic 70s, told against a backdrop of the rise and fall of the Black Power movement, the Crack epidemic and the Liberty City Riots that led to Miami being declared a disaster area, literally and figuratively. Co-written and directed by an old friend of mine, Jessica Blank (The Exonerated; Almost Home), I went mainly to support her work but came away amazed by Thompson’s acting prowess.
I’ve seen a handful of one-person shows over the years — real ones by real actors, not the self-indulgent features-on-steroids many poets have put together* — and am always impressed by an actor’s ability to believably portray multiple characters with a minimum of props and costume changes, but in Liberty City, Thompson pulls off six major characters (and a few minor ones) without making a single addition to or subtraction from her attire to delineate them, relying soley on vocal inflections, body language and an amazingly expressive face that ages, de-ages and changes genders without ever missing a beat. Her story is a riveting one that weaves her family history with that of Libery City‘s into a 90-minute, intermission-less collection of increasingly emotional (though impressively restrained) anecdotes that lead to a conclusion that is simultaneously heart-breaking and hopeful, and more than a little bit timely.
Thompson’s father, Saul, is the centerpiece of the story and whenever she steps into his skin, whether for a full scene or just a quick comment, the physical transformation is uncanny. The Bahamian “Auntie” Carolyn shares the spotlight with her adopted son and has the line of the year, summing up OJ Simpson’s life thusly: “If you don’t marry a white woman, you don’t have to kill a white woman!”
Liberty City pulls no punches and is full of similarly politically incorrect observations that cut deep beneath the typical polite conversations about race relations and individual responsibility and Thompson deserves credit for not shying away from putting everything on the table and not passing judgement on any one of her family members.
The show is slated to run at the New York Theater Workshop through this weekend and I highly recommend it. I have a discount code for $25 for anyone interested.
* Sarah Jones and Al Letson are two poets who successfully made the transition to one-person shows that were as good as anything traditional actors have produced.