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THEATER REVIEW: Moxie’s “Freedom Of Speech” at the Diversionary

You know her voice (or rather, voices) even if you don’t know her name. She gave voice to most of the women of “South Park.” She was the wacked-out lab assistant Liza on “Beckman’s World” and the voice of Australian pelicans and a turtle or two in “Finding Nemo.”

Now Moxie Theatre brings us Eliza Jane Schneider live in “Freedom Of Speech,” a performance piece about the Americans she met on a 10-year odyssey driving a used ambulance through the United States, in search of opinions and interesting dialects to listen to. “Freedom Of Speech” plays through Aug. 11 at Diversionary Theatre.

Daughter of a teacher on a Chippewa Indian reservation in Minnesota and an Indian rights lawyer, Schneider first took up music, studying the Suzuki violin method and voice at the Eastman School of Music.

In college she became interested in dialects and decided to go out and listen to Americans talking. Ten years, 317,000 miles (in a well-used ambulance) and some 1,000 interviews later, “Freedom Of Speech” is the result.

You’ll meet Vanessa, a hooker on the Mustang Ranch (“I don’t know where else I can make $2,400 a day with a high school diploma”), Aaron, a junkie about to shoot up, Celina, a beauty pageant runner-up, George W. Bush’s younger cousin Bill (who gives her a recipe for mushroom brownies), Heidi, a medical student who plays dominatrix at night to pay the bills, Anne Peets, an old Southern lady who loves Faulkner but admits “I’ve been in love with that man for 17 years and I still don’t know what the man’s talking about.”

Schneider changes characters on a dime; in this show she voices 34 of her subjects, often in rapid succession. The opening bit, in fact, seems to go through about ten so quickly that it’s difficult to get a grasp of where we are and who’s speaking.

But there’s no denying her ability to get people to open up to her ... nor to get into trouble. In New Orleans she encounters a knife-wielding Vietnam veteran and avoids rape in a novel way – by breaking into a lovely rendition of “Caro Nome” from Verdi’s “Rigoletto.”

At the beginning of her road trip, she bumps into Chippewa artist Jack Heart, who tells her the White Buffalo has been born in Wisconsin. This, he says, is akin to the birth of Jesus for Christians. And at the end, she goes to goes to Janesville to find the Miracle, and swears she heard him say, “It’s not about the belief, baby, it’s about the believers.”

Walt Whitman wrote about hearing America singing. Schneider’s head-spinning performance lets you hear 34 Americans talking in their individual accents and phraseology.

The details

Moxie Theatre’s production of “Freedom Of Speech” plays through Aug. 11 at Diversionary Theatre, 4545 Park Blvd., University Heights.

Thursday through Saturday at 8 pm.; Sunday at 2 and 7 pm.

Tickets: (619) 220-0097 or HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.