Fires in the Mirror Background

Fires in the Mirror Background

Fires in the Mirror is a one-person play composed of monologues excerpted from interviews conducted by the author, Anne Deavere Smith. The play is part of Smith's project On the Road: A Search for the American Character, which shares a name with the 2015 lecture she presented upon being selected by the National Endowment for the Humanities for the Jefferson Lecture, the U.S. federal government's highest honor for achievement in the humanities.

Fires in the Mirror centers on the perspectives of Black and Jewish Americans following the Crown Heights riot in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. The riot took place in 1991, just a year prior to the play's premiere, and was a result of deteriorating relations between the Black and Orthodox Jewish communities in the neighborhood. It was triggered by an accident in which Yosef Lifsh, who had been following the car of Hasidic Jewish leader Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, struck another car and veered onto the sidewalk, knocking down a massive stone pillar. The pillar pinned seven-year-old son of Guyanese immigrants,Gavin Cato, and his seven-year-old cousin, Angela Cato, against an iron grate. Gavin was killed and Angela was seriously injured. Lifsh was beaten by several men and verbally assaulted with anti-Semitic remarks. Over the course of the rest of the day and for the next couple of days, rumors about Lifsh and the other Jewish individuals at the scene spread. Several Jewish people were injured (and two killed) in the ensuing violence.

Fires in the Mirror explores issues of identity, community, race relations, physical appearance, and pop culture, finally culminating in a series of monologues that highlight the reactions and perspectives of several Black and Jewish individuals to the Crown Heights riot itself. Several parts of the play bring to light anti-Semitism in the African American community.

Smith was nominated for the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and won a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding One-Person Show for the play. Fires in the Mirror was followed by Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992, another work of verbatim theatre/documentary theatre which focused on the 1992 Los Angeles race riots.

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