The Blue Door. A Play with Original Songs

Author Barfield, Tanya
Year 2006
Publisher : Dramatists Play Service
Number of pages 72
ISBN 9780822222095


NY Times Theatre:An African-American math professor struggles with an equation he cannot solve to his satisfaction in “Blue Door,” a small but densely packed new play by Tanya Barfield that opened last night at Playwrights Horizons in the Peter Jay Sharp Theater. The challenge he faces isn’t professional but personal. Smart, successful and self-consciously erudite, he is forced to confront the riddle of his identity when his white wife announces she is leaving him, essentially because he won’t participate in the Million Man March on Washington.Readers’ OpinionsForum: TheaterHow’s that? “Also because of housework,” she adds as the door slams.Lewis, the mathematician, played by Reg E. Cathey with a stiff-backed gravity that gradually softens as his character does, is left alone to confront an empty house and a mind filled with turmoil at the sudden implosion of a 25-year marriage. The dirty dishes are a red herring of course. And the Million Man March is just a symbol.What Lewis really must grapple with is the accusation that he has cut himself off from his personal and his cultural history in an effort to escape the pain of the past. He has smoothly assimilated into white culture, where the harrowing ghosts of history can be more easily ignored because no one else in the room sees them. Now, in the silence of his solitude, they come back to haunt him during a long, sleepless night. Four generations of ancestors and relatives — all portrayed by a magnetic young actor named André Holland — take up residence in Lewis’s grieving psyche and give him a good talking-to.Ms. Barfield’s thoughtful play deals with themes central to the work of August Wilson, but the dramatic format she has chosen for “Blue Door” is strikingly different. Mr. Wilson examined the African-American experience through a wide-angle lens, filling his work with dozens of characters struggling to come to terms with the troublesome legacies of the past. Ms. Barfield concentrates on the same battle but locates it in a single man’s soul.Not that Lewis is particularly willing to take up arms against his demons. For much of the play, directed with care by Leigh Silverman, he sits in the shadows, a quieted consciousness, as other men’s stories take center stage in his mind’s eye. Only when his brother, Rex, struts into view and accuses Lewis of “turning your back on everything that make you black” is he roused to verbal combat.“If I’m turning my back, I’m turning it on the excuse of failure, oppression,” he retorts. “Oppression is not an excuse.”But the belligerent Rex, who failed in all the ways Lewis succeeded and died of a drug overdose, insists that Lewis acknowledge that oppression and failure are only half of the family history. Lewis’s success rests on the incremental victories of his forebears, whose suffering and endurance must be accepted and honored.A century of African-American experience is embodied in Simon, the brothers’ great-grandfather, who was born into slavery but learned to read and write (from a man who also sexually abused him); Simon’s son Jesse, who spent more than a decade in prison for the crime of trespassing in a white church and was brutally murdered by a lynch mob for trying to vote; and Lewis and Rex’s father, Charley, who witnessed his own father’s death, led a disappointed life and became an abusive alcoholic.The concentration of violence and exploitation related in these histories is a little high for a 95-minute play. Ms. Barfield comes dangerously close to overloading “Blue Door” with woeful incident, turning it into a four-man march through the most grotesque excesses of American racism. (The title, incidentally, refers to the belief of the brothers’ great-great-grandmother that painting a doorframe blue could ward off evil spirits.)But Mr. Holland’s impassioned performance keeps his monologues from becoming litanies of horror. With a few strokes he brings each of these characters (and some others) to distinct theatrical life, and infuses even the darkest passage with flickers of humor and a warm-blooded humanity. These briefly