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|Fires in the Mirror: Crown Heights, Brooklyn and Other Identities|
|Written by||Anna Deavere Smith|
|Date premiered||May 1, 1992|
The Public Theater|
New York City
|Series||On the Road: A Search for the American Character|
|Setting||Crown Heights, Brooklyn, New York City|
Fires in the Mirror: Crown Heights, Brooklyn and Other Identities is a one-person play by American playwright, author, actress, and professor Anna Deavere Smith. It chronicles the viewpoints of people from two different communities, Black and Jewish, connected directly and indirectly to the Crown Heights riot which occurred in Crown Heights, Brooklyn in August 1991.
Fires in the Mirror is composed of monologues taken directly from transcripts of interviews that Smith conducted with all the people depicted in the play. It is considered a pioneering example of the genre known as verbatim theatre.
Anna Deavere Smith's play Fires in the Mirror is a part of her project On the Road: A Search for the American Character. It is a series of monologues excerpted from interviews. Fires in the Mirror chronicles a civic disturbance in the New York neighborhood of Crown Heights in August 1991. In that racially divided neighborhood, a car driven by a Jewish man veered onto a sidewalk and killed a 7-year-old Caribbean-American boy who was learning to ride a bicycle. The accident and the delayed response of emergency medical personnel sparked protests during which a Jewish student visiting from Australia was stabbed on the street by a group of black youths. Days of rioting ensued, exposing to national scrutiny the depth of the racial divisions in Crown Heights. The rioting produced 190 injuries, 129 arrests, and an estimated one million dollars in property damage.
Smith interviewed leading politicians, writers, musicians, religious leaders, and intellectuals together with residents of Crown Heights and participants in the disturbances to craft the monologues of her play. Through the words of 26 different people, in 29 monologues, Smith explores how and why people signal their identities, how they perceive and respond to people different from themselves, and how barriers between groups can be breached. "My sense is that American character lives not in one place or the other," Smith writes in her introduction to the play, "but in the gaps between the places, and in our struggle to be together in our differences." The title of the play suggests a vision of art as a site of reflection where the passions and fires of a specific moment can be examined from a new angle, contemplated, and better understood.
The characters are as follows:
Ntozake Shange: 42- to 45-year-old African-American playwright, poet, novelist.
Anonymous Lubavitcher Woman: White mid-thirties preschool teacher.
George C. Wolfe: African-American playwright who was then the current director/producer of the New York Shakespeare Festival. (served 1993-2004)
Aaron M. Bernstein: man in his fifties. Physicist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Anonymous Girl: A junior high, teen-age black girl of Haitian descent. Lives in Brooklyn. (near Crown Heights)
The Reverend Al Sharpton: Well-known African-American New York activist and minister.
Rivkah Siegal: Lubavitcher woman. Graphic designer. Age unspecified.
Angela Davis: African American woman in her late 40s. Author, orator, activist and scholar. Was at the time a Professor in the History of Consciousness Department at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Now retired.
Monique 'Big Mo' Matthews: African American Los Angeles rapper.
Leonard Jeffries: African American Professor of African American Studies at City University of New York. Was the former head of the department.
Letty Cottin Pogrebin: White author and founding editor of Ms. Magazine. Of Jewish descent and in her fifties.
Minister Conrad Mohammed: African American minister of New York who associates himself with Nation of Islam (he later became a Baptist). The minister for the Honorable Louis Farrakhan.
Robert F. Sherman: Director and Mayor of the City of New York's Increase the Peace Corps.
Rabbi Joseph Spielman: Spokesperson in the Luabvitch community.
Reverend Canon Doctor Heron Sam: Pastor at St. Mark's Crown Heights Church, of African American descent.
Anonymous Young Man #1: resident of Crown Heights, Caribbean American man in his late teens or early twenties.
Michael S. Miller: Executive Director at the Jewish Community Relations Council.
Henry Rice: Crown Heights resident.
Norman Rosenbaum: Brother of Yankel Rosenbaum, an Australian.
Anonymous Young Man #2: Crown Heights resident, an African American young man in his late teens or early twenties.
Sonny Carson: Activist, of African American descent.
Rabbi Shea Hecht: middle-aged Lubavitcher rabbi, spokesperson.
Richard Green: Director of the Crown Heights Youth Collective and Co-director of Project CURE. (a black-Hasidic basketball team that developed after the riots)
Roslyn Malamud: Lubavitcher resident of Crown Heights.
Reuven Ostrov: Lubavitcher youth and member of project CURE, 17 years old at the time of the rioting and worked as an assistant chaplain at Kings County Hospital.
Carmel Cato: Father of Gavin Cato, originally from Guyana but now a resident of Crown Heights. 
The play is a series of monologues attained from interviews Anna Deavere Smith did with people involved in the Crown Heights crisis. Each one is titled with the person's name as well as a key phrase from that interview. There are a total of 29 monologues in Fires in the Mirror and each one focuses on a character's opinion and point of view of the events and issues surrounding the crisis. Most characters have one monologue; the Reverend Al Sharpton, Letty Cottin Pogrebin and Norman Rosenbaum have two monologues each.
Fires in the Mirror is divided into themed sections. The themes include the ideas of personal identity, differences in physical appearance, differences in race, and the feelings toward the riot incidents. The overall arc of the play flows from broad personal identity issues, to physical identity, to issues of race and ethnicity, and finally ending in issues relating to the Crown Heights riot.
The play is structured as follows:
Fires in the Mirror is a collection of multiple voices and points of view. It is a hybrid of theater and journalism.
Smith provides information as to where each interview was done, including the settings and environment, other people that were near, and when the interviews took place. This adds emphasis to the fact that this play is very immediate and real.
The play is written out in verse. Smith tries to emulate through the use of lines, ellipses, and other notation, exactly how things were said in each interview.
Fires in the Mirror is a postmodern play. According to David Rush, characteristics of a postmodern play include there being no "author", its purpose is to engage the audience rather than show, there may be multiple narratives interacting with each other, the structure departs from the conventional play pattern, and the play is usually fragmented. Fires in the Mirror encompasses all of these characteristics.
The central focus of Fires in the Mirror is the anger between two ethnic groups in the area of Crown Heights in New York City: the Lubavitcher Jewish community and the African-American community. The monologues makes reference to slavery and the Holocaust, the often-fraught relationships between the two ethnic groups and the police, as well as the perceptions of the relationships between each other.
By showing many different points of view and opinions on the issue of the riot, the play highlights that there are not just two sides, divided by race, but rather many different individual attitudes, emotions, and opinions.
Fires in the Mirror is staged as a one-person play. In the original production, there was no real physical set and limited props and costumes. Black and white photographs were displayed behind Smith as she moves from one monologue and character to the next. She slightly changed her appearance and mannerisms for each character. Throughout most of her performance she was dressed in black pants and white shirt and was barefoot.
Many of the monologues have a musical accompaniment. The music ranges from black hip hop to Jewish chants. The music is meant to pair with the author's background or the essence of each monologue.
Smith presented a first workshop production of the play in December 1991 at George Wolfe's Festival of New Voices 
Fires in the Mirror has also been presented at the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, New Jersey, Brown University, Stanford University, Royal Court Theatre in London, and many others. It was presented as part of the 1994 Melbourne International Arts Festival in Australia at the Victorian Arts Centre (now Arts Centre Melbourne).
A film of the play was adapted under the direction of George C. Wolfe and starred Anna Deavere Smith herself. It was produced by Cherie Fortis and filmed by "American Playhouse".