‘Citizen’ makes the audience hold its breath and then ask itself ‘What can I do?’

'Citizen: An American Lyric' at the Fountain Theatre

‘Citizen: An American Lyric’ at the Fountain Theatre

by Lexi Lallatin

Anytime I see a show that is addressing a hot topic issue, I have a small amount of trepidation. Because a majority of shows taking on the important subjects tend to do it from a soapbox, or in rare cases, stop being a show as much as a personal agenda.

So I wanted to research what kind of play Citizen: An America Lyric was before I stepped foot into the Fountain Theatre. I knew it was based on the poetry of award-winning African-American poet Claudia Rankine and adapted for the stage by award-winning Stephen Sachs. I had read all rave reviews. Everyone I knew was buzzing about how great of a show it was. So I expected I’d come out of the show thinking “That was a good show and now I know how to fight racism.” But, to my relief, Citizen doesn’t preach. No, it gives voices to the people society tends to speak for rather than listen to.

Citizen, while being about racism, isn’t so much about teaching the audience a lesson, as it is a breath. It’s the exact moment a friend says a racist comment and just like that you feel the audience breathing it in. They become the collective sternum letting the air settle into every crack of their ribs. But unlike every breath before it, the audience is unable to let it out. It gets choked up, stuck, its weight growing as seconds tick past. They feel that breath sit there in their chest, as the actors continue through more injustices. The play whirrs past, shedding light into this world that only those who have been oppressed have seen. And when the chest is finally able to let the breath go it comes out as a loud exhale. And thus the audience becomes the physical embodiment of the oppression itself.

Leith Burke in 'Citizen' at the Fountain Theatre.

Leith Burke in ‘Citizen’ at the Fountain Theatre.

The thing that is great about this play is that it is truthful. There will be different portions that will resonate with different people. The actors stop being characters but instead they become personification of thoughts, actions, and words. They are able to represent one person and a community in between sentences and this transition is seamless. And some moment will force you to look into the dirty thoughts you weren’t even aware you experienced. Lines will hit you so hard that days later “because white men can’t police their imagination black men are dying” will continue running through your head like a broken soundtrack.

Lexi Lallatin

Lexi Lallatin

Citizen is so effective because it doesn’t tell you how to think, as much as show you how people on both sides of the issue already think and how those separate thoughts evolve into actions. At the end I didn’t leave the theater going “racism is bad”, I instead left the theater thinking “What can I do? What can be done? Is there even a solution?” Citizen is the type of play that demands that the audience to take a closer look at the world around them and figure out if they are going to let out that breath and make a change. And in doing so, it is the type of theater every person should see.

Lexi Lallatin is the intern at the Fountain Theatre. Citizen: An American Lyric runs to Oct 11th. More Info/Get Tickets 

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