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Views on "Fires in the Mirror": the playwright, scholars, Center Stage

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Anna Deavere Smith's powerful play about Black and Jewish communal strife in New York City in 1991 is getting a timely new production at Baltimore's Center Stage. (poster art credit Gilah Press)

Today on Midday, a variety of perspectives on Fires in the Mirror: Crown Heights, Brooklyn and Other Identities, the 1992 play about Black-Jewish relations in America that's getting a new production at Baltimore's Center Stage. Opening night is Thursday.

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Anna Deavere Smith is an award-winning playwright, actor and activist. (courtesy Center Stage)

Tom's first guest today is the playwright who created Fires in the Mirror : the writer, actor and educator, Anna Deavere Smith. In addition to the one-woman plays she has written and performed, her acting credits include dozens of well-known television and film roles. She has been awarded a MacArthur Fellowship, and in 2012, President Barack Obama awarded her the National Humanities Medal.

Anna Deavere Smith has revolutionized theater with work based on intensive interviews with people around the subjects she explores. She transforms these interviews into powerful shows that capture the nuances and complexities of the issues she takes up.

Her work has examined, among other topics, health care, the school-to-prison pipeline, and racial tension in Los Angeles following the acquittal of white police officers who beat Rodney King in 1991. In 1992, she wrote and performed Fires in the Mirror: Crown Heights, Brooklyn and Other Identities, which explored the violence that broke out in a New York City neighborhood after a Hasidic Jew lost control of the car he was driving and killed an African American child. The play was a Pulitzer Prize finalist and Ms. Smith was a recipient of a 1993 Drama Desk Award.

Anna Deavere Smith joins us on Zoom from New York City.

Baltimore Center Stage is presenting Fires in the Mirror, in a live stage production that runs through December 19.

A little later, Tom speaks with Center Stage's artistic director and the director of its production of Fires in the Mirror.

But first, Tom is joined by two eminent scholars who help us explore the relationship between the African American and Jewish communities in America::

Dr. Susannah Heschel is the Eli M. Black Distinguished Professor of Jewish Studies at Dartmouth College.  Her father, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, was a close confidant and colleague of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. Heschel will be speaking in Baltimore a week from tonight about the current state of inter-religious dialogue in this year’s Manekin-Clark Lecture, sponsored by the Institute for Islamic, Christian and Jewish Studies. Her talk is entitled “Recapturing the Prophetic Tradition: A Challenge for Interreligious Dialogue.” The event begins at 7:00pm at Kraushaar Auditorium at Goucher College, and will also be streamed on YouTube. To register for the talk, click here.

Prof. Susannah Heschel joins us today on Zoom from Hanover, New Hampshire.

Dr. Charles Chavis is the Founding Director of the John Mitchell, Jr. Program for History, Justice, and Race at George Mason University’s Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter School for Peace and Conflict Resolution. He’s also an Assistant Professor of Conflict Analysis and Resolution and History at George Mason. His new book will be published next month. It’s called The Silent Shore:  The Lynching of Matthew Williams and the Politics of Racism in the Free State.

Dr. Charles Chavis, Jr. joins us on Zoom from Virginia.

Susannah Heschel is a Jewish Studies scholar at Dartmouth College; Charles Chavis, jr. is an author and a professor of history at George Mason University (courtesy Dartmouth/GMU)

Tom's final guests today are two artists who are bringing Anna Deavere Smith’s extraordinary play, Fires in the Mirror: Crown Heights, Brooklyn and Other Identities to life at Baltimore Center Stage. Stephanie Ybarra is the Artistic Director of Baltimore Center Stage. Nicole Brewer is directing the production. They join us on Zoom with their perspectives on this groundbreaking drama.

The one-woman play opens on Thursday night and runs through December 19.

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Stephanie Ybarra is Artistic Director at Baltimore Center Stage; theater artist Nicole Brewer is directing "Fires in the Mirror." (photos courtesy BCS)

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