“No disrespect, ever, to Meryl Streep,” says actress January LaVoy, “but she’s generally only playing one character, and has a dialect coach who can go over every single word that she says in the script to show her how to form that word.”
LaVoy insists she’s not picking on Streep, widely acknowledged as the greatest actor of our time.
“It’s true of all actors in feature films,” she says. “But because I’m [often] an audiobook narrator — there can be 100 characters in any given book. You know, I do a spy novel, and we’re in 18 countries, [and I’m playing] men, women, all ages.
“So you develop a facility for that, [and for] quick shifts, and understanding how certain sounds work [and] how the breath works — all of those things. It’s a muscle that I use a lot. And that really helps in working with something like this.”
Something like this is Theater J’s Fires in the Mirror, in which LaVoy personifies 26 characters, a diverse mix of residents in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights.
LaVoy performs 29 distinct monologues, all drawn from interviews playwright Anna Deavere Smith conducted in 1991. The documentary play is a tour-de-force solo turn for LaVoy, an Atlanta-based performer best known for playing Noelle Ortiz-Stubbs on ABC’s One Life to Live.
“I’ve run a few marathons,” LaVoy says, “and I think of this show as a 90-minute race.”
It is an impressive feat of endurance and deftness, especially given how quickly and seamlessly LaVoy shifts from character to character, with only the slightest of changes in costume or appearance or lighting.
Theatergoers can take away any number of insights about Black/Jewish relations from the show, but LaVoy suggests seeing Fires in the Mirror for another reason, as well.
“I don’t think we are very good at listening right now,” LaVoy says. “You hear a lot of people, in a lot of different contexts, say, ‘How will we ever move forward?’ I think that part of the moving forward has to be in the listening…. We cannot get there if we don’t listen.
“I like to say that this experience as an audience member is an exercise in listening for 90 minutes to 27 different people. And when was the last time you remember doing anything like that?”
Fires in the Mirror runs through July 3, in-person at the Edlavitch DCJCC, 1529 16th St. NW., or as a one-day virtual stream. Visit theaterj.org or call 202-777-3210.
Enter our contest to win a pair of tickets to the show’s closing weekend.
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