- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 6, 2002

Spoken-word artist Sarah Jones is like a human chameleon, effortlessly changing her persona eight times in her show "Surface Transit," presented by Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company at the Kennedy Center's American Film Institute Theater.

Miss Jones, who is suing the Federal Communications Commission for banning radio play of what she calls her anti-misogynist song, "Your Revolution," wrote the material for "Surface Transit." She presents slices of life in the show, with bigotry as the ubiquitous theme.

She bookends the performance as a hunched-over bag lady, who dresses in a blanket, sports an underbite and carries trash bags.

Miss Lady, as she calls herself, tells the audience she has her eyes on us. We might think we're immune to becoming like her, as she begs for money and sleeps in the streets, but she informs us we're not. Think Enron, she says. No one is exempt.

The next vignette offers up the Russian immigrant Pasha, who has a daughter with a black man. The man, Jerome, is no longer in their lives, and Pasha and her daughter have to deal with racial slurs from blacks in their Brooklyn neighborhood.

Despite what her schoolmates might say, Pasha is a "lady," not a "honky," or, worse, a "white cracker [prostitute]," the mother tells her daughter while braiding her hair.

The set, designed by Daniel Ettinger, is a versatile junk pile in the middle of AFI's tiny stage. It consists of stools in different sizes, a bus stop, trash cans, a bar and a stuffed armchair.

The third character, a Jewish senior named Mrs. Levine, takes a turn toward humor and lightheartedness. Sure she's a bigot, but she's funny, too.

Her son is homosexual "queer," she says. She blames "Ellen Degenerate" for his "coming out." Thank God her late husband didn't live to see their son turn on his parents like that.

Miss Jones makes her transformations during short blackouts. As Mrs. Levine, she wears huge glasses, a purple sweater and terry-cloth slippers. The fourth character, a British actress named Sugar Brown, is garbed in a leather jacket and tight, black pants.

Sugar Brown is auditioning for an MTV reality show and is humiliated by the producers, who say she isn't funny enough, sexy enough, etc. The young Brit, full of nervous energy and laughter, starts telling the bloodthirsty producers about a real-life situation in which she was sexually harassed by a customs official. They milk her for the juicy story and then drop her, like a rotten apple.

Miss Jones also plays three male characters. As with the female characters, she does the accents perfectly (even the Russian one), but the male personae lack depth and become caricatures: the Italian cop who used unwarranted violence, the white supremacist who justifies crimes against blacks, and the militant black poet who hates white people.

The male characters highlight the show's weakness its writing. It's too simplistic at times, while the acting is always radiant.

Keisha is the last character, before the exit performance by the bag lady. She's young, beautiful and angry at the way men demand sex at every turn. Keisha recites from Miss Jones' "Your Revolution," which essentially is about a woman who is not willing to "give it up."

Miss Jones is the only artist, along with Eminem, who has been banned by the FCC, she says, but while his ban was rescinded, hers wasn't.

"I remain the lone threat to American decency," she says incredulously.

A threat or not, "Surface Transit," shows off Miss Jones' energy, dramatic skill and astute powers of observation.


***

WHAT: "Surface Transit" by Sarah Jones

WHERE: The Kennedy Center's AFI Theater, F Street and New Hampshire Avenue NW

WHEN: 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays (except April 14 and 21) and 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, through April 21.

TICKETS: $17 to $32

PHONE: 202/467-4600

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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