Members say: Absorbing, Great acting, Relevant, Thought-provoking, Intelligent

About the show

Second Stage Theatre presents acclaimed solo artist Anna Deavere Smith's new documentary show about people impacted by America’s school-to-prison pipeline.

... Read more

'Notes from the Field' depicts the personal accounts of students, parents, teachers, and administrators caught in our country's school-to-prison pipeline. Investigating a justice system that pushes minors from poor communities out of the classroom and into incarceration, Smith's solo show shines a light on a lost generation of American youth. Drawn from interviews with more than 200 people living and working within a challenged system, Anna Deavere Smith continues her mastery of documentary solo performance by stimulating awareness and, ultimately, change.

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See: Critics' Reviews | Members' Reviews

The New York Times

"Though her command of different voices is what’s most obviously dazzling in theatrical terms, that mimetic talent wouldn’t count for much if it didn’t make us share the intent focus she brings to her subjects...That’s what makes Ms. Smith so invaluable. She creates a dialogue out of monologues among souls who, in real life, might never have occasion to speak to one another...Ms. Smith draws us into an ever-mutating, ever-expanding discussion." Full Review


"Despite some structural shagginess in the script, Smith keeps us riveted with her mystifyingly real performances...Smith masterfully weaves facts around personal narratives, giving the numbers a human face...While both of these passages succeed at ending the play on a hopeful note...It's only a feel-good ending if you haven't been paying attention for the previous two hours. Still, Smith undeniably convinces us that this is a discussion worth having." Full Review


"A theatrical treasure known for decades for her solo performances, Smith uses the familiarity of these scenes to offer an intimate look at America's school-to-prison pipeline that systematically directs its citizens of color to a life of poverty through substandard education and imbalanced treatment...While Smith's superb acting skills give each contrasting character an individual completeness, the strength of her art is that she never allows the performance to overwhelm the words." Full Review

Time Out New York

"In the audacious and mind-opening 'Notes from the Field,' Anna Deavere Smith delves into poverty, police brutality, mass incarceration and educational failure. Even as she shifts, with almost insouciant skill, among 17 characters of different sexes and races, she never disappears...Her probing intelligence and fair-mindedness retain a tangible presence, assembling the monologues like puzzle pieces to form a larger picture." Full Review

The Hollywood Reporter

"She portrays dozens of real-life figures with dazzling, chameleon-like versatility...There are many powerful moments in the show...Despite the performer's skills and the vital importance of the social issues discussed, 'Notes from the Field' proves too diffuse to have the intended impact. The piece never quite comes into dramatic focus, instead accumulating its horror stories to punishing rather than illuminating effect...The show ultimately becomes as numbing as it is provocative." Full Review

New York Magazine / Vulture

"Each segment — well, maybe one or two are less riveting than the others — is fairly astonishing, with apt climaxes and startling kickers. The overall argument, too, is theatrically structured, moving from abstractions to specifics and from causes to results to a form of transcendence...In a way, what she does is more like a summoning or a séance than a play. I’d even call it anti-theatrical, except that it’s unquestionably great theater." Full Review

Village Voice

"None of the tragedies in Smith's documentary work are exactly news. We've read about them, protested them, and anguished over their seeming intractability...Indeed, 'Notes' theme is this tangible sense of a burden pressing down, one that too many are suffering under every day. But Smith's powerful style of living journalism uses the collective, cathartic nature of the theater to move us from despair toward hope. She shows us beautifully how we might—and that we must—share the weight." Full Review


"Smith’s scope is greater than a look inside classrooms. Here she finds connections to a failed justice system, police violence and even to the civil rights movement of the ’60s. All this—and a bravura performance—make for a stunning production...The broader connections take time to build in strength—and sometimes the storytelling strays—but Smith lays out a compelling case for the bigger picture...The solo stories are staged with efficiency and grace by director Leonard Foglia." Full Review

Lighting & Sound America

"Smith has dived deep into her subject, traveling the country to assemble a gallery of people whose lives have been touched by this phenomenon and using her considerable editorial skills and gifts as an actress to create a kind of mural out of their points of view…As always, she is riveting…Everything about Foglia's production has been arranged to show off Smith and her incredible talent to maximum effect." Full Review

The Guardian (UK)

"Anna Deavere Smith’s latest might be flawed, but there’s enough energy and anger to make her exploration of racially motivated imprisonment a standout...This is one of Smith’s particular gifts, to disappear into the people she plays, to take an assemblage of interviews and recorded talks, and bring them to astonishing and visceral life onstage. She finds a distinct voice for each...It is less divisive and less cohesive than it might be. Here, too many of the voices are of the same opinion." Full Review


"Smith comes out on stage and offers an inspiring performance, portraying 17 disparate characters with her usual dazzling virtuosity...She intends these monologues to help us see how those outwardly unrelated preshow facts about prisoners, school discipline, and police killings are all connected. It’s admittedly a struggle to connect some of these moments directly to Smith’s central thesis...Still, it has to do with race in America and hope for America, and besides, it’s a good story well told." Full Review

Theatre's Leiter Side

“Unlike 'Fires in the Mirror' and 'Twilight,' each of which focused on reactions to a very specific event, 'Notes from the Field,' as its title suggests, is more wide-ranging; while it makes many important points about a poor educational system leading to incarceration, its broader focus tends to weaken the overall impact...Because of the filtering process of Smith's chameleonic artistry, it clarifies the racial issues roiling our nation more potently even than seeing her characters in person.” Full Review

Talkin' Broadway

"Though Leonard Foglia's staging moves well, there are times it could put even more emphasis on Smith than it does. Foglia does, however, help Smith elicit great beauty from her time onstage. She is as capable of wrenching tears as cheers, both in the construction of her writing and her pungently sensitive performance...Even when the events Smith covers in 'Notes From the Field' are at their most depressing, such sounds are music we're all better off for having heard." Full Review

Front Mezz Junkies

"The detail and depth of this dissertation is epic and powerful. To whittle this piece down to a few sentences feels like a disservice to her, and to us...The expanse and detail of the topic is mind blowing and emotional...These powerful messages Smith serves will stay with you long after leaving the theatre. She wakes us up and preaches to us in a way that is subtle and stimulating. Tears will come." Full Review


"The people whose cadences and exact words Smith captures with remarkably emotional nuance and authenticity during the course of two hours, intensify the magnitude of the school-to-prison-pipeline situation...But meeting these people as so masterfully embodied by Ms. Smith will hardly send us out the door especially hopeful...She's a true blue visionary and her commitment to this school-to-prison pipeline project is not limited to this potently entertaining play." Full Review

Front Row Center

"Playing 19 people, all the dialogue transcribed from interviews, Anna Deavere Smith is a powerhouse, a tour de force, a troubadour and mirror of ourselves...Smith is supported so beautifully by director Leonard Foglia and composer and fellow performer Marcus Shelby, who is often onstage with Smith and with his bass accompanies her words perfectly...This performance, this story should not be missed." Full Review

Bob's Theater Blog

"Some of the moments were painful to relive. Much attention is devoted to the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore. The sermon at Gray’s funeral is one of the most powerful sections of the evening...Although there is an attempt to shed a ray of hope at the end of the evening, I did not find it convincing or comforting...Some of the dialects and intonations came across as artificial...The material lacked a clear arc and some of the excerpts should have been trimmed." Full Review


"With little more than a change of jacket or a shift in her vocal rhythm, the virtuoso theater medium and social-science reporter morphs into indelible characters. If anything, her portrayals feel even more distilled, nuanced and complete than the ones she epically recreated through the decades...Leonard Foglia has expertly directed with screens of pertinent video and more production values than usual." Full Review


"In a remarkable scene in Smith’s transfixing one-woman show, she channels a Baltimore minister...Without attempting an actor-like impersonation, Smith had so precisely captured a personal voice, its identifying tone and rhythm, that she took us on the speaker’s journey. It’s the kind of magic she achieves again and again during the evening...Smith is so good in conveying the distinctive personalities of her people, and the urgency of what they have to say, that our attention seldom drifts." Full Review

Broadway & Me

"An impressive and often moving roster of witnesses but while the stories they tell are compelling, they fail to add up to a sustaining narrative or to offer any fresh insights...Missing for me were the subtleties and complexities Smith offered in her earlier shows…The show ends on a 'Kumbaya' moment that doesn't seem earned or, given the current political climate, likely." Full Review


"It’s hard to imagine a more urgent and evocative work of theatre than 'Notes From the Field,' Anna Deavere Smith’s latest masterful documentary performance...Bracing though this vision of the big picture may be, Smith’s approach is human in scale...Under the seamless direction of Leonard Foglia, the production also makes powerful use of video and projections...She doesn’t indulge in caricatures or do impressions, but has an unparalleled performance style all her own." Full Review

Theatre is Easy

"A powerful new work that gives voice to the victims of the low-income public education system…Smith is, without pretense, brilliant. Her passion, attention, and commitment to each speaker’s essence is unwavering. As a creator and playwright, Smith has drawn out the poetry of each individual's perspective with the utmost respect and dignity…'Notes From the Field' is a stellar production and a true example of the power of activism and theatre in action." Full Review

Theater Pizzazz

"Smith is an incisive interviewer. Not that we see any actual inquiries, although we almost feel like we do...Smith does her homework, gathering material that’s often provocative and always genuine. She then slides into her characters without judgment and without preaching. Director Leonard Foglia keeps his star moving, and lighting designer Howell Binkley deftly keeps her in the spotlight." Full Review

The Wrap

"Each emerges as a distinct individual, evoked by Smith primarily through her voice and bearing and physical expression...Smith again and again finds moments of uplift and calls to action for an audience that might be otherwise inclined to absorb its lessons with head shakes and a sense of futility. That resistance to despair may be this powerful playwright and performer’s greatest gift." Full Review

Act Three - The Reviews

"The show, when it covered the prison system and the education system, really hit high notes. However, Smith seemed to have a need to highlight police brutality and the recent headline stories…While I am happy to have seen such an intelligent and moving performance, I do not consider this to be a play that I would have wanted to see. It was more like a 92nd Street Y performance. I also wish the emphasis on education was stronger and the sensational racial headlines were less." Full Review

See: Critics' Reviews | Members' Reviews

Insightful, Great acting, Thought-provoking, Relevant, Powerful

See it if powerful critique of race and prison in america

Don't see it if don't like political stuff

Absorbing, Great acting, Thought-provoking, Relevant, Heartbreaking

See it if you want to see a one-woman show that address real-life difficult topics in a meaningful way, inspiring both rage and hope.

Don't see it if you are the kind of person that responds to the Black Lives Matter movement by saying All Lives Matter.

Compelling, Provocative, Thoughtful, Outstanding acting, Ruminative

See it if Anna Deveare Smith brings the pain, the tenderness, the philosophy of real people involved in the struggle for equality and visibility to...

Don't see it if ...light as an unflinching and contemporary series of conversations. You know the material - she introduces you to its effects. Superb.

Absorbing, Ambitious, Masterful, Must see, Profound

See it if You love documentary theater that forces you to think. You like examining politics and culture through an emotional lens.

Don't see it if You prefer shows with linear plots or don't like plays using real people and real words. You don't like one-woman shows.

Absorbing, Intense, Thought-provoking

See it if you are a fan of Anna Deavere Smith or are interested in superbly reenacted testimonials from real-life events about the black struggle.

Don't see it if you are looking for light entertainment or are not interested in racial issues.

Intense, Thought-provoking, Relevant, Inspiring, Educational

See it if You want to learn about disadvantaged people in our society. You want to see the world through their eyes. You want to open your own eyes.

Don't see it if You are not interested in watching Ms. Smith present a serious documentary in which she plays all the characters.

Great acting, Intelligent, Masterful, Relevant, Resonant

See it if You want to explore relevant issues of racism, education, and the prison system performed by a brilliant actor.

Don't see it if You don't want to think about these issues.

Also Anna Deavere Smith portrays 17 people and you'd swear they were all on... Read more Read less

Great acting, Intelligent, Masterful, Must see, Great writing

See it if You want to leave the theater shaken, in a good way--by the performance, and the message that the performance delivers.

Don't see it if You want to remain apathetic, and pretend that we live in a world where everyone is equal, and has the same opportunities. It shook me.

Ambitious, Great acting, Masterful

See it if A true master class in acting and empathy. Important and resonant subject matter presented effectively. Well-researched and thoughtful.

Don't see it if 2+ hrs + intermission was a little too long and may have undermined the coherence of the show, making certain parts feel somewhat disjointed

Absorbing, Great acting, Intelligent, Thought-provoking, Resonant

See it if You are a fan of Anna Deaver Smith like her solo shows where she plays many characters,you care about politics, social justice ,education

Don't see it if You aren't interested in the relation of poor education for minorities and the prison system

Absorbing, Great acting, Intelligent, Intense, Thought-provoking

See it if you want an intelligent perspective of what is and what needs to change to have equal education and opportunity those that don't

Don't see it if The only negative is that she is talking to a receptive audience., one that is aware of and agrees with her positions

Absorbing, Clever, Edgy, Great acting, Entertaining

See it if you like tothink and be educated

Don't see it if you don't want to be reminded of some of thechallenges & problems in America

Absorbing, Great acting, Intelligent, Thought-provoking, Relevant

See it if You like one-woman shows with very up-to-date, relevant information. You like to follow the news events along controversial racial events.

Don't see it if You don't want to be confronted by racial controversy. You don't like one-woman shows.

Absorbing, Intelligent, Relevant, Resonant

See it if A great performance that will raise your consciousness about issues most American theatergoers will never personally confront

Don't see it if You think Trump will make America great again.

Absorbing, Thought-provoking, Relevant, Great performance

See it if you enjoy engaging topical theater pieces. Smith is a master at inhabiting her characters.If you're interested in this provocative topic.

Don't see it if you're want a story driven play. Based on today's hard headlines and is built on actual conversations and interviews. Don't like solo shows

Also Smith is a brilliant performer and master of pulling together actual w... Read more Read less

Absorbing, Ambitious, Great acting, Intense, Relevant

See it if you're a Smith fan & have admired her past works and talent to create multiple characters, enjoy relevant, hot topic theater

Don't see it if One person shows are not your thing, you're not interested in the issue of how blacks and minorities are treated by the justice system

Absorbing, Great acting, Thought-provoking, Relevant, Resonant

See it if you like current events. Performance and stories are excellent. It was unexpectly a good theater night.

Don't see it if you don't want to feel or think. If you have no interest in political and social views.

Absorbing, Intelligent, Thought-provoking, Profound, Relevant

See it if you have any interest in justice/are interested in voices of color/are not afraid to be confronted with the challenges facing America

Don't see it if you do not want politics in your theatre/you prefer to keep your blinders on

Absorbing, Ambitious, Great acting, Intelligent, Intense

See it if You are a fan of Anna Deveare Smith, like one-person shows based on real life struggles, and are politically engaged.

Don't see it if You are looking for action or adventure, and don't like non-fiction performance.

Also This was a little more disjointed than some of Smith's previous shows ... Read more Read less

Great acting, Thought-provoking, Must see, Relevant

See it if You want a new perspective on the education to prison pipeline. Also, if you've never see Anna Deavere Smith, this is one of her best.

Don't see it if You are not open to changing your opinion on poverty, race relations, police brutality, education, or the prison system.

Absorbing, Great acting, Thought-provoking, Masterful, Relevant

See it if you love expansive, empathetic portrayals of complicated topics, as seen through the eyes of one of the true genius artists of our time.

Don't see it if you should see this show. She's a transcendently great performer, and this show could not be more timely and urgent.

Absorbing, Intense, Profound, Relevant, Riveting

See it if you want to explore one of the most important issues facing modern America with a woman who singlehandedly invented a new brand of theatre.

Don't see it if you absolutely must have a full cast of actors, don't want to think about systemic racism, or don't enjoy call-and-response.

Also Anna is mesmerizing onstage, and her ability to transform into her sub... Read more Read less

Great acting, Intelligent, Thought-provoking

See it if You have never seen ADS (if you have, you will go without fail), you like spectacular acting, or an interest in education good and bad.

Don't see it if You seek only amusement, and don't care why or how so many people end up in prison.

Absorbing, Exquisite, Great acting, Thought-provoking, Must see

See it if you like theater that is inspiring; have an interest in education and race issues in the U.S.

Don't see it if you are looking for a large cast and traditional story line.

Exquisite, Great acting, Thought-provoking, Riveting, Great staging

See it if see notes

Don't see it if see notes

Also The show compiles interviews from various players in several of the sh... Read more Read less

Cast & Creatives (8)