Theater Review: Eliza Jane Schneider's "Freedom of Speech" at the HCC auditorium

Pieced together from over 300,000 miles of North American travel in a converted ambulance and hundreds of recorded interviews along the way, “Freedom of Speech” invites the audience to relive Schneider’s cross-country journey, as she mentally assumes one personality after another, creating a psyche as frayed and confused as the country she portrays.

First, she’s Jack Heart, a Chippewa artist selling beadwork on the side of the road. “Art might be the thing that brings the world back together now,” he says.

Then she’s Vanessa, a hooker at the Mustang Ranch in Nevada. “The state makes a whole buncha money offa this,” says Vanessa. “I don’t think they want to shut it down.”

And just as easily, she becomes Paula, driving with Eliza in the passenger seat to the Blessed Virgin’s Barn, where they kneel down and pray. “It’s all a test,” she says, “and the devil’s running out of time.”

What started as a rambling senior thesis for her UCLA World arts and Culture degree became the crux of Eliza's life work, preserving the voices of her mother nation, and finding the one message that unites them all. In the last semester of her career at UCLA, Eliza shaved her head to get out of her contract with CBS, where she played Liza on the Saturday morning favorite, “Beakman’s World,” bought an ambulance, and hit the road.

Hundreds of thousands of miles later, she’s now a heroin addict (“It’s like a thousand orgasms combined with being back in the womb”), his heartbroken girlfriend ("I just want him to control it, you know?"), two rival Pittsburgh gang members (“Your daddy’s so skinny, he hang glides on a Dorito”), a Vietnam vet on acid ("Fear? You wanna talk about fear?"), a fiddle-playing turkey hunter (“Everyone should play the fiddle and kill his own food”), an eleven-year-old cable-watching beauty queen ("After what I been through, I hate boys. I can't stand 'em"), a dominatrix (“You’re not a sheep, and we’re not on a farm”), a Lower East Side diner waitress ("I would not give up the Lower East Side for anything"), a Tex-Mex marine officer (“There’s no such thing as a Mickey Mouse war”), and a mushroom-taking cousin of President Bush.

She’s all of these things and more, because she’s all of these things together.

“We all speak different languages,” says Shirley Northbird, a lesbian Navajo elder and the shows penultimate speaker. “But we’re all one.”

Asks Eliza: “What happens when you believe in two conflicting philosophies? Or ten? Or hundreds?”

Sat. March 6, 7:30 p.m.; HCC Mainstage Theater, Performing Arts Building; 2112 14th St., Tampa.

Maybe it was growing up on a Chippewa reservation that made Eliza Jane Schneider care so much about people.

Or maybe it was her mother, an attorney specializing in Native American law.

Or her adopted Vietnamese brother, who always took their war games just a tad too seriously.

Whatever the case, make no mistake that her one-woman show, “Freedom of Speech,” which she’s performing again at 7:30 tonight at the HCC auditorium in Tampa, is as much about American identity as it is about the spectrum of dialects – and thought – she so perfectly imitates. It is these, the, “lost and disenfranchised voices of a splintered nation,” that make Eliza Jane more than just another ex-"South Park" voice artist.

Scroll to read more Local Arts articles


Join Creative Loafing Tampa Bay Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.