April Fitzsimmons’ The Need to Know directed by Steven Anderson is a delightful remarkable one-woman show at the Actors Gang theatre here in Culver City.
Fitzsimmons’ autobiographical show is a of a woman’s journey settling into the life of an everyday average American. Only there’s a problem here, she’s not settling and she’s not average. And she’s not going quietly into the night. She is a small woman with a big voice and she wants you to know what the hell is going on out there!
Or, does she really? By the way, do you have the need to know? If you don’t have the need to know, then you don’t need to know. And she isn’t going to tell you. It is the type of predicament that drives people mad.
Growing up in Butte, Montana, population approximately 30,000, April had already acquired the need to act and express herself. She is the oldest of 6 children to an Irish father and a Mexican mother.
April's life growing up is a compendium, gathering sources of information, and effectively using that information to keep her head above water. She reads a book that changes the course of her life, Endless Steppe by Ester Hautzig. (The story of a 10 year old girl and her Polish family arrested by the Soviets in 1941 and subsequently sent to forced labor camp in Siberia.) From this book her life is set in motion.
"And so my warrior was born. Fight or flight! Fight or flight! Prepare for battle. Make a list. I used to make lists for everything... and my list of things to pack in case of a Communist takeover. I knew at all costs I'd survive. I'd be packed, ready to run to the hills like they did in the Endless Steppe, or like the Von Trapp's in the Sound of Music."
So here we have this precocious imaginative little girl given this information and it sets in motion a structure for the rest of her life. The preparation and/or the defense of a communist takeover of Butte Montana.
April set these ideas aside for the time being in favor of boys. And as life happens, she works for the YMCA and meets a guy, newly engaged Garrison, gets drunk and goes to jail.
Her father, not particularly proud at that moment, tells her they have no money for college and asks her to join the Navy. And like an obedient girl of 17 she enlists in the Air Force, grabs her stuff, hops in newly un-engaged Garrison's '66VW bug, and lives a bohemian life with him in California until she reports to boot camp.
In boot camp Fitzsimmons is indoctrinated into the Air Force and within weeks she is using an M-16 rifle. After testing her, she was found to be quite smart, and got her security clearance to be an intelligence analyst. Within 6 months she was in Italy reporting to the NSA or "no such agency" and fighting two wars: the communists and the Italian men.
Meanwhile, her long distant relationship with Garrison, who's an officer in the military, has ended when she finds out about Regulation 30-1, forbidding sex with an officer.
Fitzsimmons plays a wide range of characters that are beautifully specific from all walks of life, her father, her mother, Garrison, Latrell, Sgt Eric Marshall, Franco Bruno and Debbie, her best friend living in Butte Montana. Debbie calls her "Ap" short for April. Is that a term of endearment?
Steven Anderson's direction is curious. The focal point is very abstract. The Need to Know is about whose need to know? The character April, or the audience? If it is April's need to know then significant change should move the character along. It can be subtle but significant. Starting with the moment she reads the book, being arrested for being drunk, finding out the family has no money for college, finding out she's brilliant, learning about regulation 30-1, finding out the enemy is breaking the IMF Treaty and then, after 9/11, taking part in the biggest production of her life, to use that voice of hers to speak out.To speak the truth and passionately right what is wrong.
One-woman shows are difficult and April manages to overcome the obstacles of a bare stage, tells her story with little props, and does this with a lot of humor and insight into the human condition.
Even though Fitzsimmons was an intelligent analyst she hardly lets us in on any military secrets in this play. Possibly, we did not have the need to know.
What she does give us are beautiful moments in the pages of her life on a book not yet closed.
Film director/producer of Kill or Be Killed and The Intruder. Producer/director 99 Seat Theatre Plan theatre in Los Angeles. SAG, AFTRA, Hollywood Chair of the EEOC committee. Champion of Diversity in movies and television. Twitter: @joestraw9