Show tackling prison systems goes returns on tour

Playwright, actress, and prison reform activist Liza Jessie Peterson’s show “The Peculiar Patriot,” returns for brief run at National Black Theatre July 13-29. The play receieved a grant from the Art for Justice Fund and will go on a national tour in October.
Ani Berberian

Her show is back, and she’s taking it on the road!

Playwright and actress Liza Jessie Peterson’s one woman show, “The Peculiar Patriot” is going national. Her play critiquing the American prison system was recently awarded a $100,000 grant by philanthropist Agnes Gund’s, Art for Justice Fund. It returns to the National Black Theatre July 13-29 and its debut tour will kick off nationally later this year. The actress says she is happy about the support for the play, and the chance to bring her message to more people.

“I’m very grateful to have the opportunity to bring the message of the show to a national audience and a broader audience,” said Peterson.

She adds that her show is very meaningful because it confronts the prison industry in a way many people don’t, and examines how it reflects and impacts many facets of American life.

“I think it’s an important piece of art that touches on an issue that millions on people are affected by,” added Peterson.

The show features only Peterson playing a character named Betsy LaQuanda Ross, visiting loved ones and close friends at an upstate New York correctional facility. It sheds light on the prison industrial complex, how it affects families, and tackles some honest truths about the growth of prisons and incarceration. The comedic yet powerful play explores the conversations inmates have with relatives and friends, and tackles the criminal justice system’s flaws head on.

With the financial support, the show is going to different states and cities starting in October. Peterson says her first stop may be in Boston, but is still in the finalizing process for tour dates and locations. Other than multi-media adjustments, no changes were done to the show’s writing, and the playwright adds that she doesn’t plan on making any additions.

Having worked at Rikers Island for two decades and setting the play in a prison visiting room, Peterson has performed excerpts of the show at 35 jails and penitentiaries nationwide. And she looks forward performing it in its entirety at several more.

“I don’t have plans to it bring to Rikers or other correctional facilities, but I think all facilities need to have cultural enrichment programs, and wherever the door is open I will go,” she said.

Peterson says her show will be interpreted and received differently depending on the viewer, but hopes that audiences become well-informed and knowledgeable about her message.

“I never have an idea of what effect the show is going to leave on people but I hope it’s received with the intention to enlighten and inspire people,” she said.

“The Peculiar Patriot” at National Black Theatre [2031 Fifth Ave. between Dr. Martin Luther King Boulevard and E. 126th Street in Harlem, (212) 722-3800,]. July 13–29, at various times. $35.

Reach reporter Alexandra Simon at (718) 260–8310 or e-mail her at asimo[email protected] Follow her on Twitter @AS1mon.

More from Around NYC