Many plays need large casts, elaborate scenery and special effects galore to capture attention, but there’s one artist who is able to dazzle audiences with only herself and her words. If you are an artist of the page, an artist of the stage or simply appreciate a show unlike any other, Anna Deavere Smith’s unique and powerful one-woman production, “Never Givin’ Up,” is perfect for you. Smith, award-winning playwright and actress, is bringing her newest original piece to Campbell Hall on Sunday, Oct. 18 at 7 p.m. as a part of UCSB’s Arts & Lectures program. Tickets are $15 for UCSB students and $30-50 for general public.
In this collection of interviews, stories and a reading of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” throughout, Smith melds history, music and social commentary into a single performance about racial struggles and the hope for resolution. She needs nothing more than a desk, a chair and her stories to captivate her audiences, letting the masterful crafting and jarring truth of her words sink in. With the musical talents of esteemed violinist Robert McDuffie and pianist Anne Epperson, her show transcends traditional theatrical settings and storytelling, creating solemn moods and conveying a wide spectrum of emotions through music and Smith’s ability to portray various characters on her own.
Anna Deavere Smith has been a tour-de-force in the art world since her beginnings as an actress in various productions such as “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” engaging audiences and other artists with her ability to explore her roles deeply and transform herself onstage as much as possible to embody each character. Her career as a playwright began in 1992 with her first one-woman show, “Fires in the Mirror.” The show, exploring the intense racial conflicts between Jewish and Black communities during the Crown Heights crisis of 1991, was part of a larger project of Smith’s called “On the Road: A Search for the American Character.” For the project, she created a collection of one-woman productions consisting of monologues based on interviews in an attempt to create a genuine reflection of real life and people through art.
“Never Givin’ Up” promises to be a refreshingly authentic production, allowing audience members to experience the lives of others through the simple sharing of stories. The monologues from real interviews show how conflicts with police and with politics create fear and tension not too far-removed from that of the Civil Rights movement. Smith is able to bring all of those emotions to life, questioning what justice really means, and exploring what can happen when it’s distributed unequally. With her incredible character transformations and wide variety of sources, Smith’s “Never Givin’ Up” will make you forget you’re watching a one-woman show.