State of the Re:Union’s creator, host and co-executive producer, Al Letson, is currently performing his one-man show, Summer in Sanctuary off-Broadway at the Abingdon Theatre. We are extremely excited to share some of the early reviews of the production.
You can buy tickets and find out more about the show at the official SIS website and keep up with news and updates at the official SIS Facebook page.
Show Business Weekly Review:
In addition to being the host of the innovative NPR program “State of the Re:Union,” Al Letson is a gifted performance poet with a resume that boasts performances on national and local stages as well as on HBO. Now New York City gets a chance to see Letson’s many talents in action through Summer in Sanctuary, an autobiographical piece told through monologue, poetry, song and multimedia.
Photo: Kim T. Sharp
The show chronicles Letson’s experiences working at a summer camp in an economically challenged area of Florida. Don’t worry — Letson doesn’t imagine himself a hero a la Freedom Writers or Dangerous Minds. Instead, he is incredibly honest and vulnerable, freely recounting his challenges and failures for a brutally accurate description of how difficult the job really is. What is most touching, however, is his love for the campground kids, emanating through his monologues, accounts of experiences, and funny yet charming impersonations.
Letson is an exceptional performer, and he succeeds in making the show nuanced and diverse despite the fact that he is alone on stage. At times, his monologues are airy and natural, as if he were talking with a few friends, but he is equally capable of delivering a pointed and downright tear-jerking monologue. He is also extremely adept at impersonations, creating characters with specific voices and physicalities, and then effortlessly transitioning between them. It is no surprise, however, that the strongest points of the show are his performance poetry pieces. His body morphs into whatever he needs to be while his energy rockets through the roof. The show features multiple pieces of poetry intertwined throughout, including his well-known “The Ball the Rim and Him” and another about the word “Nigga” — “it is the sound of our teeth / pressing against this / fleshy fruit that names us.”
…..Summer in Sanctuary is laugh-out-loud funny at times, intriguing and intellectual at others, but it ultimately communicates the profound truth that a little bit of love goes a long way. It doesn’t take a superhero to make a difference, and Letson proves that sometimes the experiences we consider personal failures are those that have affected others in ways we could never imagine.
“Biggie, Biggie, Biggie, can’t you see?/Sometimes your words just hypnotize me,” croons Pamela Long on the hook of Notorious B.I.G.’s 1997 single “Hypnotize,” which plays at the end of Al Letson’s one-man show “Summer in Sanctuary.” A self-admitted fan of the hip-hop pioneer, Letson also has something in common with him: the ability to make words spellbinding. In the late ’90s, Letson made a name for himself by competing on the poetry-slam circuit. More recently, he has employed his prodigious skills as a wordsmith in his playwriting and as host of the public radio show “State of the Re:Union.”
“Summer in Sanctuary” refers to the months Letson spent in Jacksonville, Fla., nominally working as a creative writing teacher at a summer camp for inner-city youth. But when the kids firmly displayed their resistance to writing during summer vacation, Letson’s roles at the camp expanded to include mentor, coach, storyteller, videographer, chauffeur, and therapist. The performer is the son of a Southern Baptist preacher, and his family background is evident in his ability to bring out the music in his words: playing with their tempo, building to a crescendo, driving a point home in an explosive cadence.
He adopts the rhythms and jives of the different students, moving between personalities with the ease of a great character actor. Although he spends most of the play with the boys of the camp, his brief forays into the girls’ territory are both enlightening and hilarious; the back-and-forth between Letson and the queen bee, Danita, is particularly remarkable….