FREEDOM OF SPEECH: A ONE PERSON DOCUMENTARY
nytheatre.com review by Pamela Butler
Eliza Jane Schneider may be the one person who wrote and performs this
documentary tour of America, but she is able to transform herself and
become no fewer than thirty-two real Americans from the real world out
there. She does this with an amazing ability to recreate voices and
mannerisms and to slip easily from one personality to the next, pointing
up sharp contrasts and similar desires of a diverse population. She is a
Navajo Elder, with wisdom, experience, and sadness; she's the polygamous
mayor of a small town in Arizona. She is a Lower East Side prostitute, a
farmer, a student, a turkey-shooting housewife.
August 15, 2003
Having had her hand crushed in a scuffle with the Los Angeles police and winning a hefty award for proving they used unnecessary force, she's unable to write and so she falls in love with the tape recorder. That's how it all begins.
Schneider says she is out to "listen to America," to hear the dialects, to find the "culture" that too many people have told her doesn't exist. What she thinks will be a month becomes a ten year sojourn. She is bold, confronting the dainty and the dangerous, the down-and-out and a few Republicans, including a radio DJ named Billy Bush, whom she befriends before she figures out who’s related to him. It's too late to hate him, he's become human and she likes him, even loves him.
Using sound clips from her original interviews (these are also played as pre-show sound), a few well chosen props and numerous hair changes, Schneider is well-directed by Sal Romeo as she follows her stories: singing, fiddling, laughing and reflecting, and in her wanderlust, getting inside her subjects. Freedom of Speech makes its own powerful political points gracefully, without strident ranting or tiresome diatribes.
Schneider is a very talented woman; engaging, multi-faceted, and a seasoned performer with a lot of chutzpah. She’s had brushes with rape and death, ugly ideas and beliefs, yet she’s come away with an overwhelming sense of love for the Americans she's encountered and recreated for us here.
It's wonderful just to see her perform, it's also wonderful to witness our true American culture. Freedom of Speech is a production not to miss.