Recognized as an outstanding leader in audio programming and technological excellence, Audible (an Amazon company) is the world’s largest producer and provider of original spoken-word entertainment, with an ever-increasing catalogue of selections reaching millions of listeners every day. Among its latest releases this fall are two impactful one-person audio plays with momentous socio-political themes.
The Peculiar Patriot – Actress/writer/activist Liza Jessie Peterson takes an up-close and personal look at the American criminal justice system in her acclaimed one-woman show The Peculiar Patriot, which made its stage debut at the National Black Theatre in Harlem in 2017, and was just released this September in a new one-hour-and-35-minute audio version, recorded live at the Minetta Lane Theatre in March 2020. Through her empathetic narration as the street-talking protagonist Betsy LaQuanda Ross – the eponymous hero who dedicates her time, love, and support to the longtime friend she visits behind bars – Peterson shifts from sharing humorous anecdotes (giving her updates and gossip about the neighborhood) to making serious, insightful, and critical observations that illuminate the racial inequities, capitalist investment in (and who’s profiting from) the ever-growing prison industry, and the human impact mass incarceration has on the 2.5 million people imprisoned in the US, as well as on their family members and friends.
In creating a title for this compelling work, Peterson referenced the long history of the enslavement of Black people in our country, noting that “19th-century Southern lawmakers in the Antebellum South referred to slavery as ‘our peculiar institution’ because slavery was too dirty a word, so they attempted to sanitize it.” For her, a “peculiar patriot” signifies “anyone who travels on buses, drives miles upon miles, accepts collect phone calls, writes letters, puts money on the books for their loved ones, and supports a peculiar soldier in a peculiar war against a peculiar institution.”
Inspired by her own decades of work and regular visits with the populations of such infamous institutions as Rikers Island (which is slated to close by 2026, to be replaced by four smaller jails across four of the city’s boroughs), the well-researched show has been performed by Peterson not only in theaters, but in more than 35 penitentiaries across the country, and is now available to concerned listeners everywhere on Audible. The affecting audio presentation is enhanced by realistic sound effects that establish the harsh reality of the prison in which the disquieting story is set.
I Am My Own Wife – Honored with the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award for Best Play in 2004, Doug Wright’s bio-drama chronicles the true story of German antiquarian and transgender woman Charlotte von Mahlsdorf (1928-2002), who, against all odds, survived both the Nazi and Communist regimes of her homeland. The playwright based his script on a series of personal interviews he conducted and correspondences he exchanged with the “eccentric singular” figure in the 1990s, recounting in first person the struggles and moral dilemmas she faced, the astonishing strength, bravery, and resourcefulness that got her through the worst of times, and the lengths she went to, both good and bad (as an informant for the Stasi), to make it out alive.
Jefferson Mays – a highly acclaimed actor of both the stage and screen (known to theater lovers for his Tony-nominated performances in Oslo and A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder) – reprises his Tony-winning Broadway role (and preceding Off-Broadway run at Playwrights Horizons) for the new 85-minute audio version of the play, recorded and released by Audible in October. The tour-de-force narration brilliantly evokes the soft-spoken real-life character and nearly 40 of her acquaintances and contemporaries (including interspersed segments and vivid descriptions delivered in the playwright’s voice), distinctively switching accents and speech patterns with each part.
An unforgettable audio journey, I Am My Own Wife (the title derives from the response of Charlotte – born Lothar Berfelde – to her mother, when told that playing dress-up is fine, but it’s time to grow into a man and to think about getting married) takes listeners through the historic experiences, encounters, and unique personal background of an individual who not only outlived the virulent forces of World War II, but whose complex story of survival and lifelong pursuit of non-binary sexual liberty remain relevant today. It makes for yet another significant addition to Audible’s impressive theatrical library.