A Drama on ‘America’s Most Urgent Human Rights Crisis’

Liza Jessie Peterson (Photo by Ani Berberian via Amsterdam News)

‘The Peculiar Patriot,” a one-woman show on the subject of mass incarceration, opens on Sept. 13 at the National Black Theatre in Harlem and runs through Oct. 1. Trudy Tomlinson writes in the Amsterdam News about the new production, written and acted by Liza Jessie Peterson.

The play follows protagonist Betsy LaQuanda Ross, a self-proclaimed peculiar patriot, as she makes regular visits to penitentiaries to boost the morale of her incarcerated friends and family, navigating love amid barbed wire. As she shares neighborhood updates and gossip and reminisces about family, Betsy delivers a shrewd indictment of the criminal justice system in her own authentic and inimitable style, with a heavy dose of humor to boot.

Peterson was early in sounding the alarm on the mass incarceration crisis, having first developed the play in 2003. She has performed excerpts from it in more than 35 penitentiaries across the country, and opened for Angela Davis at a recent Columbia University conference on mass incarceration. Peterson was recently featured in the Oscar-nominated documentary “The 13th.”

Peterson calls mass incarceration, which disproportionately impacts people of color, “America’s most urgent human rights crisis.” Raymond Codrington, executive director of Hi-ARTS which is joining with the National Black Theatre in producing “The Peculiar Patriot,” says the show “sparks an engaged dialogue on the intersection of race, class, gender and power.”

Go to Amsterdam News to read more from Peterson, from the executive director of the National Black Theatre and to learn more about performances. National Black Theatre is located at 2031 Fifth Ave. between 125th and 126th streets in Harlem.

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