8 p.m. Fri.-Sat.; 3 p.m. Sun.; through Jan. 23
Anthony Bean Theater, 1333 S. Carrollton Ave., 862-7529; www.anthonybeantheater.com
Former City Council president Oliver Thomas is no stranger to either writing or the stage. He once wrote poetry regularly, and he has performed several times at Anthony Bean Theater, including the lead role in No Niggers, No Jews, No Dogs. His return to the stage is his first appearance since being released from prison in September 2010, and he's starring in his own well known story of crime and punishment.
"(In jail) I wrote daily accounts of how I felt," Thomas says. "My daily metamorphosis going from 'Why me?' to how you can be better off for it."
Thomas started reflecting and recording his thoughts about what landed him in Atlanta Federal Penitentiary when he first arrived in January 2008. He pleaded guilty to taking a bribe from Stan "Pampy" Barre, which both resulted in jail time and vanquished what had been shaping up to be a promising run for mayor.
He shared some of that writing with Bean, who convinced him to take it onstage. Bean adapted Thomas' writing and experiences into Reflections: A Man and His Time, which covers everything from Thomas' public life and downfall to his incarceration, family life and return to New Orleans.
"We're not nice to him at all in this play," Bean says. "Preachers camped out at his house and asked 'What the hell were you thinking?' "Why did you do it?' This is a drama, but people are still talking about it in the barber shops."
It's an ensemble show, not a monologue, but when Thomas talks about it, he focuses on many of the personal and community issues he confronted. He had made his wife and family second to his political career. And in prison, he reconnected with other difficult aspects of his hometown.
"In jail, everyone thinks everyone else's crime is worse," he says. "We would have round table discussions with everyone from white collar criminals to drug dealers, and they would say, 'Yeah, we sold drugs, but y'all (politicians, corrupt judiciary) sold hopelessness.'"
Thomas notes that while jail is supposed to be about rehabilitation, there are no guarantees. Some inmates set out to return to society changed. Others slip into prison routines and activities that replicate crime on the streets.
When Bean talks about the play, and the first act in particular, he talks about a community's dismay and frustration, from the fall of a popular leader, to the relatively small amount Thomas accepted to compromise his career, to the possibility he was set up. The rise and fall of a popular leader propels the story.
"We talk about it in the play," Bean says. "We have a character who says, 'This is bigger than you, Oliver. I am not going back to Egypt to serve under the Pharaoh.'"
Thomas has moved on in his public life and become the director of advocacy for youth and the homeless at Covenant House. The play, however, puts his whole story back in front of the community.
"It's been very painful and very therapeutic," Thomas says. "But it's getting better."