Moving fast through the USA

Master of the voice, Eliza Jane Schneider’s one-woman performance is perfect for the awestruck observer

By Charlene Baldridge | Theater Critic

The reviewer’s favorite line in Eliza Jane Schneider’s “Freedom of Speech” – the extraordinary 1,000-mile-per-hour show Schneider wrote and is currently performing – is probably “Everybody should play the fiddle and kill their own food.” Moxie Theatre is the producer, and founding Artistic Director Delicia Turner Sonnenberg directs the 90-minute solo performance, which plays at Diversionary Theatre through Aug. 11.

Eliza Jane Schneider on stage (Photo by Daren Scott)

Eliza Jane Schneider on stage (Photo by Daren Scott)

Seen the day following a “not guilty” verdict in the trial that’s dominated the news of late, “Freedom of Speech” seems an unblinking, uncensored, non-judgmental look at all kinds of Americans. No matter your opinion of the verdict, it nearly soothes the viewer regarding the frailties, foibles and downright stupidity of humanity. Even one who suffers fools badly will find something to cherish and keep.

Schneider’s one-woman show recounts tales of males and females of all ages and from all walks of life. They are mostly simple folk, whom she interviewed on a 317,000-mile odyssey spanning more than a decade. The people include a lesbian medicine woman of the Chippewa nation, a woman from Faulkner country, a white supremacist Schneider kissed before gleefully informing him that she is a Jew, and not to be forgotten, the aforementioned fiddler.

Schneider in her preferred transportation mode (Photo by Ash & Arrow Photography)

Schneider in her preferred transportation mode (Photo by Ash & Arrow Photography)

Schneider took her trip in an old ambulance, sleeping on the gurney. She does actually play the fiddle as well as a guitar, and sings everything from folk to grand opera. Her “Caro nome” from “Rigoletto,” sung to distract a would-be rapist, is not too shabby. She displays her array of amazing characters replete with all manner of dialects – her specialty – and accents, tics and ignorance.

She is the homely anthropologist of and apologist for United States eccentricity, a regular Studs Terkel of 21st century Americana. The undersigned admits her uppity prejudice and intolerance and, even after the play’s concluding exhortation, her unchanged nature. Perhaps Schneider’s purpose is to provoke self-examination.

Less pretentious and less message-laden than the material of Anna Deavere Smith, “Freedom of Speech” does not lead or persuade, but allows the observer to draw his or her personal conclusions. The only viewpoint is that of awestruck observer.

The work is entertaining without preaching. People say the darndest things, and Schneider manages to come off her odyssey with a modicum of tolerance, even love for her fellow humans. Wish I could say the same.

Schneider is a well-known dialectician and voice-over expert who gave voice to many of the women on “South Park” and played Liza on “Beakman’s World.” Her show is presented by Moxie Theatre, and plays at Diversionary Theatre through Aug. 11, with one dark week.

“Freedom of Speech”
WHERE: Diversionary Theatre, 4545 Park Blvd. (University Heights)
WHEN: Thurs. – Sat. at 8 p.m. & Sun. at 2 pm (no performances July 25 – 28) through Aug. 11
INFO: 619-220-0097

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