|By Tom Helma|
Wiiliamston's 'Door' is well worth opening
(Wednesday, Oct. 6) Williamston Theatre’s “Blue Door” is an intensely quiet and deeply moving play, one that stills and startles the audience into an unexpected opportunity for personal reflection and self examination. We observe and experience the mid-life crisis of Lewis, an African-American professor of math philosophy, a crisis that is triggered by his wife’s leaving him for not participating in the Million Man March on Washington, and that takes him through a painful revisiting of four generations of his family born into and emerging out of slavery.
Lewis is portrayed by Rico Bruce Wade, who has all the complex circumlocutions of an articulate professorial type, able to present his case with wry humor and intellectual detachment,. During an evening of insomnia he is plagued by visits from his father, his brother, his grandfather and great-grandfather, each one reminding him of a piece of personal and cultural history that formed and shaped his very soul.
Each of these distinct characters is portrayed with ease by Julian Gant, who employs a storytelling style to remind Lewis (and us) of what his forebears had to endure to bring him to this point in his life. Gant uses dialects — along with foot and hand percussion — to shape these characters, and is breathtakingly effective as he recreates traumatic stories of abuse of power and dire consequences in the lives of Lewis’ ancestors. In these moments, the stillness of the audience becomes palpably painful as we grasp what Lewis has been suppressing and avoiding as he assimilates into white academic society.
Bartley H. Bauer’s simple set consists of a giant history book, on which Lewis sits throughout most of the play, and a simple door frame onto which a blue light is projected from time to time as Gant’s characters explain the purpose of why ancestors painted their doors blue — to ward off evil spirits. One can almost imagine the stories in this book seeping into Lewis as he tries to absorb the significance of his wife’s leaving him.
Writer Tanya Barfield captures the elusive qualities of the male temperament exquisitely in Lewis’ character.
Philosopher Octavio Paz has described this as the “labyrinth of solitude,” in which we hide from ourselves all the cultural events of our people’s history that have scarred us along the way.
This is heady and emotionally loaded material that scratches the surface of one’s psyche and stirs up the deeper wells of who we are and how we came to be who we are.