The Logan Center Performance Hall played host to an emotional and personal exploration of the news from Al Letson, host of the Reveal podcast. In the first ever live show for Reveal, Letson took to the stage to perform a one-man show about his experience during the “Rally Against Hate” march in Berkeley, California, earlier this year. In the course of an hour and fifteen minutes, there were explorations of the event from 14 different characters, all played by Letson, displaying his ability to assume a variety of different personas and create a believable and beautifully woven narrative. Letson’s experience at the “Rally Against Hate” was mainly covered after he threw himself on top of an unarmed man being beaten by five Antifa members with sticks. While the events were the technical content of the play, Letson said in an interview that “the play is going to be much more about the emotional events of the day, not just the straight facts.”
The play delivered on this premise, with vignettes spanning most of Letson’s life. At the end, the motivation for why he jumped on the man being beaten was clear. However, the beauty of the performance was in its ability to show the ambiguities present in the story. After the fact, it was discovered that the man being beaten on the ground, named Keith Campbell, had, a few days earlier tweeted “Fuck Antifa! Let them come to Berkeley on August 27th so we can kick their asses AGAIN!” Another tweet suggested that he would be carrying a knife ready for use. While this led to some questions for Letson after the fact, he stated in the interview that he knew he had to protect Campbell and that he would do it again. He stated in an after-show Q&A that he saw the humanity in the man on the ground and that was enough for him to empathize. In the exploration of this desire to save and serve, Letson shared tales of racism in his youth and discussed his training as a flight attendant as being influential in his gut reaction.
In the interview Letson stated that his thought process in the moments after his decision to jump on top of Campbell quickly transformed into a feeling of an impending death. However, as soon as he jumped on top of Campbell, the Antifa members quickly desisted from the beating. The true beating, Letson reflected, would be coming in the form of public reaction. He was either called a hero or a traitor. The former left him feeling uncomfortable, as he did not want to become part of the narrative. Following the incident, Letson was called into his office, leaving him fearful that he would lose his job. As a journalist, he worried that he might have engaged too much with the events unfolding. However, he believes that he did the right thing. In the end, the editor-in-chief of the Center for Investigative Reporting, Amy Pyle, stated “Our editorial policy is clear: we are unbiased observers not participants. However, in reviewing the video, it is clear that Al did not take sides. Instead, he responded as any of us might if we saw another human in distress.”
This one-man show was accompanied by live music and projection on a large screen. It was simply one of the most impressive and innovative live performances I have ever seen. The power and energy that was exuded from Letson was extremely gripping. The ability to represent an isolated experience and somehow make it representative of the national zeitgeist underscores Letson’s pure talent. It is even more amazing that the entire performance was written and produced in merely six weeks. The original podcast episode covering only the pure facts of the eventful day is called Street Fight and can be found in the Reveal podcast feed.