MISS TRUTH -- The Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater through March 18.
Warning : A valiant attempt is being made to keep this review uninfluenced by the fact that this reviewer, along with several innocent members of the preview audience, was hit in the face in the second act by a Zip-loc bagful of uncooked black-eyed peas, merrily tossed from the stage by dancers as part of the play. It was painful, but it was not the only painful thing about this play.
In keeping with the experimental nature of the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater, performers in "Miss Truth" run up and down the aisles and pull members of the audience onto the stage. This has been the standard experiment of American experimental theater for decades, but the throwing of dangerous pellets is an innovation that could lead to such experiments as throwing cooked peas, which are softer, or to audiences experimenting with lawsuits. (So much for the valiant attempt.)
Otherwise, the play is a mixture of gospel and disco music and dance, poetry and soliloquy. It is dominated by Glory Van Scott, who plays the title role (19th-century preacher of emancipation and feminism Sojourner Truth) who wrote the book, music and lyrics, and who supplied the "musical concept," with director and choreographer Louis Johnson.
There are brief moments when one sees what Van Scott's talent as an actress might have done to bring this fascinating historical figure to the stage. But Van Scott as writer has given her an impossible role. First, she must play an eight-year-old child, and then she must play a complex grownup with the help only of naive lines.
Naivete is the style of the whole show, but it comes off as condescending. On her many program credits, Van Scott lists "Ph.D." after her writing credits, althought degrees held by other contributors are not listed.
Sojourner Truth's philosophy is presented in a "recipe" for freedom -- "put in a generous amount of fresh humor." Her mission is backed with a chorus of "Do Your Thing, Miss Truth." Her cry for freedom is echoed by a frenzied disco dance.The realization of her dream is symbolized by walk-on appearances in the finale of such figures as a boxer and a singing star.
If a white writer had shown such a simplistic view of black people, in which all cultural manifestations from moral leadership to the commercial pop of discos are treated as being on the same level, in which human rights are trivialized, and in which emancipation is justified by "credit to the race" figures, that writer would have been run out of town as a racist.