Rutgers Theater Company presents Anna Deavere Smith’s "Fires in the Mirror" 4/15-4/30

In 1991, a 7-year-old boy is struck and killed in Crown Heights, Brooklyn; hours later, a man is killed in retaliation. The racial and ethnic clashes that ensued between the black community and the area’s Hasidic population were known collectively as “the Crown Heights riots.”

Anna Deavere Smith’s keenly observed play Fires in the Mirror probes the chain of events through the voices of 26 people of varying races, ages and genders. The Rutgers Theater Company production of Fires in the Mirror is set to run from Friday, April 15 through Saturday, April 30, 2011. Lynda Gravatt directs.

“Anna Deavere Smith is actually looking for what makes people in America interrelate in the way they do—or not,” Gravatt says. She describes Fires in the Mirror, a series of revealing interviews with neighborhood residents as well as civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton and theater artist George C. Wolfe, among others, as a fusion of drama and journalism that “speaks to our humanity.”

When Fires in the Mirror debuted two decades ago, Smith morphed into all 26 characters. In this production, 15 actors take on the roles, playing against type to cross gender and race lines.

“It’s important that the actors play against type because Smith reminds us that we are all saying the same thing,” Gravatt says. Unfortunately, “we’re conditioned not to look for common ground but to be aware of our differences so that it’s hard for us to hear.”

Ultimately, Gravatt says, Fires in the Mirror forces audiences to listen and to hear—and to confront race and other issues that are often loaded with an emotional history. However, she points out, the play does so while maintaining a basic compassion for those on every side of the discussion.

“No matter what enclaves we live in, everything we encounter becomes a part of us,” Gravatt says. “This particular production is something the audience will carry with them.”

Fires in the Mirror runs from Friday, April 15 through Saturday, April 30, 2011. Performances are 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sunday. No performance Sunday, April 24. Tickets are $25 for the general public, $20 for Rutgers alumni and employees and seniors and only $15 for students with valid ID. The Philip J. Levin Theater is in the Mason Gross Performing Arts Center, 85 George Street (between Route 18 and Ryders Lane), on the Douglass Campus of Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, in New Brunswick. For more information about any Mason Gross event, visit or call the Mason Gross Performing Arts Center ticket office at 732-932-7511. Media inquiries: Laurie Granieri, 732-932-7591, ext. 516.

Photo of Kristen Adele, Devon Malik Beckford and Joshua Marx by Larry Levanti