Claudia Rankine’s “Citizen: An American Lyric,” is an undefinable, powerful polemic detailing the complex insidiousness of racism. Adapted from her book of the same name for the stage by Stephen Sachs, it is a galvanic force. Sound Theatre’s nuanced creation is a personal detailing of Black American experience and a frustrated, instructional critique of white ignorance.
Directed by Jay O’Leary, whose excellent play “Skeleton Crew” premiered last fall, follows that show with similarly affecting work. O’Leary’s stage is sparse at first, opening the space up for dexterous physical performances. Slowly, the stage begins to reveal numerous multimedia elements, accentuating but never cluttering the space. Designed by Lex Marcos, the stage captures the eclectic nature of the play’s prose brilliantly. There aren’t any set characters in “Citizen”, but rather a constantly morphing ensemble, setting up racist situations presented both comically and dramatically. The piece, at only 70 minutes, has a constant flexibility and energy that holds throughout.
Much of this consistency owes to the small but uniformly excellent ensemble. Standout Naa Akua, as Citizen 3, communicates a sense of knowing intensity, paying off in a moment where they assume the role of a righteously angry preacher. Another striking moment comes when Allyson Lee Brown, as Citizen 2, assumes the role of Serena Williams. This scene, pitched perfectly by Brown, details the racist, overt scrutiny Williams has received over her career. This thoroughly engages Brown and the ensemble as they call it out. A palpable sense of motion emerges from the entire cast, a physical, visceral commitment to what is often wrenching material.
In the program for “Citizen”, Artistic Director Teresa Thurman makes mention that the play’s performers “expose for you-AGAIN- the facts of racism.” It’s a point that shouldn’t be overlooked. I’m sure some may find the facts of “Citizen” to be well-worn, but the truth is these facts have to be vigilantly stated and restated for the majority-white audiences of Seattle theatre. “Citizen” is exactly the way to do that- beautifully adapted, performed, and necessarily direct. Go see it right now.
“Citizen: An American Lyric” is currently running at Center Theatre. For tickets and more information, visit