1.1: The Author's America by Lydia R. Diamond: An engagingly smart and clever piece of writing which is well delivered by Thoms
Before watching this first film, I watched the series introduction where Kwame Kwei-Armah introduces it by saying that when he came to Baltimore for his new role of Artistic Director of Centerstage, he wanted to understand America so, to do so, they decided to reach out to 50 leading writers with the question who or what is your America? The results were then cast and shot in New York with no props or great sets, just a rehearsal room and a film crew to capture the outputs. It was a weird opening video because Kwei-Armah feels like he is overacting for the camera in an odd way, but at least Susanna Gellert was more natural. Regardless though the project sounded as good as it had when I heard about it online, so I looked forward to the first film.
I'm not sure it could be a better start as we have a fast-moving and self-referential piece from playwright Lydia R. Diamond, delivered by the actress Tracie Thoms (Deathproof). The piece is delivered as written by a writer who knows it will be delivered by an actress in a film, but perhaps doesn't know how. It is hard to describe because of how well inverted it all is, but the film manages to discuss itself while also delivering something that is not this discussion. Specifically it is about race and we hear the author muse about how this film will be cast, who the audience will be and how it will be received by the newly appointed Artistic Director – however he defines himself (although we know for sure he is 'down'). The material then manages to get even more meta by having the actress (albeit continuing to voice words written by the writer) describe a lunch with the writer where they discusses her (the writer) shifts and challenges associated with being used to being in a fundamentally unfair or racist country and then suddenly have a black-identifying President.
It is a very smartly written piece and the pace and internal workings and references of it all really were quite thrilling to be carried along with. Thoms deals with it really well indeed, delivering a very natural and chatty performance which very much fits with the tone of the writing. As we were told in the opening film by Gellert, it is shot without much fuss, props or fancy soundstages, but it is more engaging for it. I think if I had a complaint it would be that it had as many edits in it as it did. A necessary evil, but they did tend to break up the flow even if there is not a pause.
An engaging smart and clever piece of writing which is really well delivered by Thoms. If I doubted that I would continue into this series of short monologues, then consider that doubt dispelled.
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