Move over, Anna Deavere Smith | Review

By Norm Stamper

Special to the Islands’ Sounder


Anna Deavere Smith brought a special production of her one-woman show, “Twilight:Los Angeles” to Seattle in the mid-nineties. Capturing personalities as diverse as Los Angeles Police Department Chief Daryl Gates and a street gang member, a Korean shop owner and a Jewish politician, and using their own words, their own speech patterns, Smith’s performance was unforgettable.  Last Saturday, June 9, Orcas Islanders were treated to another extraordinary one-woman show.

Written and performed by Seattle-based artist Amontaine Aurore, “Free Desiree” is a disciplined, passionate and rollicking story of a young black woman growing up in the ‘70s.

Teenager Desiree weaves the account of a drummer-friend’s suicide into a running commentary, by turns poignant and hilarious, on social, political, and cultural events of the era.

At her “not quite all white, suburban high school,” Desiree spearheads an effort to “process” the young man’s death.  She appeals to the high school principal, and implores others to come together to try to make sense of the tragedy.

It is not until our own sympathies have been fully engaged that we learn that the drummer had previously crushed and betrayed Desiree with his use of the N-word.

Aurore owned the stage Saturday night, captivating a full house at the Orcas Center Black Box.  Whether she was singing along and dancing to popular tunes, embodying others, monologizing in the earnest way of teenagers, or letting us feel an awakening tension between the personal and the political, there was not a single false note to the performance.

When Desiree stares off into the distance, we stare with her, anxious to see what she sees.

Close your eyes and hear, over the school’s PA system, Mr. Every Principal—timid and cautious in the face of controversy, yet very much in charge.  Close your eyes and hear the cadences of Stokely Carmichael, Edridge Cleaver, H. Rap Brown, Angela Davis, Huey Newton. And of Marvin Gaye, The Temptations, The Supremes, Smokey Robinson.  And, of course, of Shauna, Desiree’s older sister (inspired by Aurore’s real-life sibling, our own Michell Marshall), lovingly rendered here in Valley Girl-speak.

Can there be any doubt about where young Desiree is headed?  She’s strong-willed, deeply committed to fairness and equality.  You just know that down the road, no matter her career choice, she’ll bring passion, humor, and artistic sensibilities to the cause of social justice.

Unlike Anna Deveare Smith’s characters, Aurore’s are produced from scratch.  Smith was nominated for the Pulitzer for her play, “Fires in the Mirror” about the 1991 Crown Heights crisis in Brooklyn.  It is not hard to imagine Amontaine Aurore amassing honors for her exquisite evocation of a teenager’s emerging awareness of the perplexing, often unfair world beyond her own bedroom.

– “Free Desiree” is a one-woman play written and performed by Amontaine Aurore.  Directed by Tikka Sears. Choreography by Amontaine Aurore.  Technical direction by Rik Deskin.  Co-produced on Orcas Island by Jane Alden, Michell Marshall and Ten Auras Productions.