“Class is in session,” is how, “Notes from the Field: Doing Time in Education,” Anne Deveare Smith’s latest work, at the A.R.T., in Harvard Square begins, and what follows, in Act I, is a great array of convincing ventriloquisms in which Ms. Smith takes on the voices of people she has interviewed about education, race, and incarceration.
Each person speaks through Ms. Smith and what she says are reportedly the verbatim transcripts of interviews she conducted with them. The result is a fascinating and insightful series of statements that are provocative, contradictory, and often inaccurate in terms of facts, but still revelatory.
The chief problem is that this isn’t theatre. Not in the sense of art as being something other than just reality. And that’s made clear from the words spoken at the outset: “Class is in session.” Brecht was didactic, too, but it was more than a series of lessons–it was art, and as he has one his characters say, “Art isn’t nice.” The Smith production, ironically, is nice: It wants to make us better students or people.
Act II was the audience breaking up into small discussion groups about the play, and Act III was termed, “A Coda.”
I cut class after Act I.