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A true story, Eliza Jane Schneiders twenty-five character solo play, Freedom of Speech, will take the audience on her journey through the kitchenettes and hearts of Arizona polygamists, Los Angeles dominatrixes and Montana Huterites, and into the real social emergencies facing America as a nation. Arkansas fiddles, Pittsburgh street rap and New Orleans midnight arias provide the soundtrack to Schneiders 317,000-mile spiritual quest, born of her hypothesis that dialectsresidual phonemes-- are the only archeological dig the kids of America have. What began as a World Arts and Cultures thesis project at UCLA and evolved through various cocoons as Road Trip and USA 911 emerges as a jarring sociopolitical manifesto, Freedom of Speech.
After having her wrist broken by a cop while protesting Daddy Bushs Gulf war, Schneiders distrust of the American system along with her fear of being permanently jettisoned into the numbing barrage of media hype on which her generation was weaned, incites her to cash in her assets, quit her dream job on television, shave her head, buy an ambulance, and set off across the country in search of . . . something she could not define. Esoteric voices? Or truth? Almost 10 years and over a thousand interviews later, she invites us on her journey. She revisits a collage of disenfranchised American voices from the streets, and develops a suspicion that America, disconnected, brainwashed and date-raped by an intangible government, is becoming pre-WWII Germany. She sets up a dialectic between the disconnected: urban and rural; rich and poor; New York and the South, all while taking the audience on her own wild ride from Arizona to Alabama to Alaska, stopping off in beauty parlors, swimming holes, bars, street corners, and churches, asking everyone she met, simply, Whats going on? The answers challenge us to question the precarious premises upon which we rest our world-views. We are feminists seduced by hypnotic Utopia-hawkin polygamists; vegetarians donning a camouflage cap at deer camp in West Virginia; Jews driving to see the Blessed Virgin Mary appear on the side of a barn. We accompany a junkie to cop a fix. A Mexican-American marine tells about covert missions he fought in Beirut and Grenada. A nursing mother, in the process of rewriting the Declaration of Independence, contends Tom Jefferson said, you must have a revolution every twenty years to keep the government straight, well, we havent had a revolution in so long, its ridiculous.
Still seeking a Universal Truth, we return with Schneider to the Chippewa reservation were she was raised, only to find a new Bingo Palace in the place of her old day-care. There, we meet a jewelry salesman who incites us to believe, Now that the White Buffalo is here, Art will be the thing that brings the world together. Drawing on the most captivating chapters of her research, Schneider incorporates a scene from her earlier solo piece, Road Trip, described by the Los Angeles Times as pure poetry, a soaring metaphoric counterpoint to the plays recurrent theme about human desperation and the redemptive powers of art.
The scene: Schneider averts a rapists attack with an operatic aria, metaphorically reminding us of the power of the human voice to defend liberty. Blending the immediacy of a documentary with the intimacy of personal narrative, Freedom of Speech captures a muffled underlying voice of America that we wont hear anywhere else.