By Tanya Barfield
Lyrics by Tanya Barfield
Music by Larry Gilliard
Directed by Andrea J. Dymond
At Victory Gardens Biograph Theater
Haunting ghost story fuels the search for personal identity
Rex harangues Lewis: “You got a buncha white people sittin’ up in your head being your audience. You livin’ under a White Gaze. And, to be clear, if you think black folks gonna wanna haul their asses into this theater-I’m talking about this theater-whatch yu deny life, where they suppose to sit down and not talk back, than, you are sorely mistaken.” –from Blue Door
Tanya Barfield is one talented playwright with a gift for storytelling, creating rich imagery and a penchant for generating fully dimensional characters. She understands the psychological struggles and the effects of one’s heritage on one’s identity. Not since August Wilson has a playwright so deftly dealt with African-American folklore, superstitions, and traditions.
In Blue Door, an African-American math professor, Lewis (played with dignity by Bruce A. Young), is left by his white wife due to his reluctance to embrace his identity. The 90 minute one-act covers the night of their break as Lewis is visited in one sleepless night by the spirits of the instant ghosts of his grand-father, Simon, his departed younger brother, Rex and Jesse, his sharecropper grandfather.
Each of these characters are marvelously portrayed by Lindsay Smiling who deftly changes accents, body language and persona to suit his character. Smiling demonstrates his acting and vocal chops with Barfield and Gilliard’s original work songs, African chants and bluesy gospel tunes. The piece has sprinkles of humor as a coping mechanism for life’s oppressions. The language uses dialects as well as poetic references.
This enticing piece is presented on a wonderfully elegant set (designed by Keith Pitts) with haunting lighting (by Charlie Cooper) with underscoring video projections (by Liviu Pasare). Blue Door explores the concept of blood memory– is a way of structuring story so that time and character can be compressed and blended as in African oral tradition. This is in the finest tradition of Toni Morrison’s “rememory” or August Wilson’s “the ground on which I stand.”
BlueDoor is a reference to the Gullah belief that you paint your door blue to keep away the evil spirits called haints. Once Lewis calls up the spirits of his ancestors, we learn about the myths and traditions of the Yorba, of slaver days, and Southern sharecropper days.
As Lewis hears the spirits from his past, he realizes that me must now urgently look back because he has no children with which to pass on the legacy of his family’s saga. Playwright Barfield presents Lewis as one who looks at himself through the eyes of white people rather than through his ancestor’s blood memories. The value of collective memory is highlighted.
As Tanya Barfield observes: “Ultimately, I See Blue Door as a…dialogue between then and now, between cultural amnesia and memory. I believe it’s universal (question): Is my present determined by my familial past?”
Blue Door is a rich theatrical experience filled with two strong performances and a haunting look a the lingering effects of blood memory. Barfield is a thought-provoking talented writer.
At Victory Gardens Biograph Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave, Chicago, IL, call 773-871-0682, www.victorygardens.org Tuesdays thru Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 5 & 8:30 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, Wednesday matinees at 2 pm on Feb 17 & 24, running time is 90 minutes without intermission.