MIAMI – The critically acclaimed play about growing up in Miami’s inner city is coming to town.
Liberty City, the one-woman play starring former Miamian April Yvette Thompson, begins its limited run at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County on Feb. 18, wrapping up on March 1.
In a telephone interview from New York, “the fiercely independent” Thompson told the South Florida Times where she acquired that trait and how the play came to be.
Thompson said she grew up in Liberty City during the ‘70s with her community activist, free-thinking parents.
Thompson’s front-row seat to her Bahamian, Cuban-American father’s can-do, unstoppable spirit taught her to dream big and expect success.
She cites her Ransom Everglades School education as an example. When her father decided that a private school would be most beneficial to his daughter’s education, the two of them visited a Miami library. There, her father requested and received information from the librarian regarding “the best private school in Miami” and scholarship opportunities to pay for it.
When his daughter was accepted to the school and the administration cautioned that her math skills needed improvement, Thompson said her father responded by posing the question, “And what are you all going to do about that?”
This led the school to provide tutoring.
Becoming an actress was not Thompson’s first career intention.
“I thought I needed to go to law school and become a lawyer,” she said of her initial beliefs about where her professional life would go.
Encouragement from Children’s Defense Fund founder Marian Wright Edelman, who told Thompson, “You’re an artist,” led her to take a year off from work as a community organizer to pursue theater. The purpose of the hiatus was to see if she could make a living doing the kind of conscientious work she respected.
Thompson met Edelman when she worked for the CDF in the late 1990s.
After working as an actress in New York for several years, primarily doing political plays, Thompson met the woman who would co-write and direct Liberty City, Jessica Blank.
A months-long interview/conversation with Blank about the life of ‘70s activists gave birth to the play that premiered to rave reviews in New York City last year. Thompson said the piece is important because of its potential impact on audiences.
“To be challenged by a piece of theater that doesn’t spin the movement and its characters as villains, or simple political constructs, but complicated humans gives us the opportunity to reflect on how far we’ve come, what we’ve gotten right and where we still need to push our personal comfort levels to create real social change,” said Thompson, who is currently starring in the play Eclipsed, at the McCarter Theater in New Jersey.
Thompson, who declined to give her age because of the nature of show business, is extremely selective about the roles she plays, even declining a lucrative opportunity to play a “crack addict on TV” because of the message it would send to “eight-year old girls.”
Clearly, the well-educated actor’s standards are serving her well (she received a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Vassar College and a Master of Fine Arts degree in Theater from Rutgers University).
She has a few feature-length films hitting the theaters this winter. In them, she shares the screen with Felicity Huffman and Bill Pullman in Phoebe in Wonderland and with Uma Thurman in the Accidental Husband.
Thompson has also appeared in the HBO original film, Bernard and Doris, starring Susan Sarandon and Ralph Fiennes, and The Exonerated with Danny Glover, Delroy Lindo and Sarandon.
Her TV work includes appearances on “Third Watch,’’ “Law and Order: Criminal Intent,’’ “The Dave Chappelle Show,’’ “Guiding Light’’ and “As the World Turns.’’
On the creation of Liberty City, Thompson said she and Blank used “documentary theater methodology that is based in a deep respect for the subject and a focus on drawing out, translating, and distilling the essence of their story, rather than on journalistic information gathering.”
The end result is a play that Variety magazine lauded, stating that, “Exploring race and activism, family and politics, April tell us her life story with scorching insight on how history both frees and chains us at the same time.”
The Village Voice called the play, “laugh-out-loud funny, yet as gritty and thought-provoking as the neighborhood that inspired it.”
Photo by Joan Marcus. Actress April Yvette Thompson
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Liberty City, the play.
WHERE: Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami.
WHEN: Feb. 18 to March 1.
COST: Tickets start at $40. Group Rates are available.
CONTACT: Arshtcenter.org or call 305-949-6722.