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Blue Door

a Drama
CATEGORY :
by Tanya Barfield

COMPANY : Theatre in the Square [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Theatre in the Square [WEBSITE]
ID# 2656

SHOWING : February 20, 2008 - March 16, 2008

[REVIEW THIS PRODUCTION]

PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

There is a belief in many cultures that if you paint your door blue, you keep away evil spirits, or haints. Simon (Rob Cleveland), a middle-class black mathematics professor, is haunted by his ancestors as he wrestles with who he is and what he has become. Beautiful storytelling highlighted with humor and song. Strong language.


CAST & CREW LIST
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REVIEWS

[REVIEW THIS PRODUCTION]


by blackoleander
Thursday, March 20, 2008
4.0
Well I know that nobody cares what I have to say, but I liked it. I came away feeling like the play ended with a balance of Lewis' character. I don't feel like it denounced him for being successful, but it denounced him for not wanting to at all acknowledge the past. I liked when Lewis asks his brother Rex if he was free and he simply said " No." I think it's very easy to get confused about what black culture is and isn't. I see what Dedalus is saying, he brought up points which I would have never thought of, but if anything this play has succeeded in at least bringing a dialogue to something that needs more open discussion. I was happy to look at my fellow audience members and see so many different faces. Not just racially, but old and young. I think that this was the most diverse audience that I have ever been to. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]
Lynchings
by Dedalus
Sunday, March 2, 2008
0.0
(Pre-Note: An argument someone made to me led me to change my mind about waiting until after the run of the play to post this. I've re-written this significantly since posting it on Theatre Buzz last week, and have added a postscript that, hopefully, fleshes out some of the thoughrts I had about this play.)

Let me make it clear at the start. In spite of some decent dialog and some good performances, I HATED HATED HATED this play.

First, it fails as theater. It presents an insomniac African American professor who does nothing, solves nothing, and changes nothing. There is no story, no character progression, no “lesson learned.” Playwright Tanya Barfield writes that she wanted to create “a theatrical meditation on ‘blackness’” – what she created is, in fact, a theatrical lynching of a black man who dares become successful.

Second, it fails as history. It presents four generations of one Black family, but their stories are familiar to the point of cliche. Yes, they are compelling, but historical atrocity always is – it’s cheap, and, ultimately, it’s meaningless. In this case, it’s even detrimental, since it plays no role in story or character – it’s almost like pornography – presented just to shock and awe. This tactic ignores real achievements made by Black Americans in the face of oppression. It is, in fact, saying that being Black is about being a victim. It’s saying that anytime a Black man acts (and note, it is ALWAYS a Black MAN – the women are either ignored or relegated to “support” functionality), he will be put down. It ignores the many and diverse historical threads that make up the complex tapestry of what it means to be Black in America.

Third, it fails as dramaturgy. Its set-up is incredibly contrived and unbelievable – a 25-year marriage ends because a White wife believes her husband “should” have gone to the Million-Man March? That’s not dramatic construction, that’s a privileged playwright sitting in smug judgment and creating philosophical constructs rather than characters. The fact that the Million-Man March was as much about religion as it was about race is an indicator that this set-up was not well-thought through.

Fourth, it fails as sociology. It says that “Blackness” is an aspect that is ignored at a character’s peril, yet it never defines “Blackness” as anything but victimhood. It criticizes its main character (Lewis) for “selling out,” even going so far as to suggest that his brother, dead of a drug overdose, is somehow more admirable because he didn’t forget his “Blackness.” The painting of the Blue Door is presented as a symbol of his heritage, but the play never explains what it symbolizes, or why it’s a tradition that needs to be preserved. To be fair, the program notes describe it as a device “to ward off spirits” (though its source as an African or as an American custom is not noted). This makes for an embarrassingly confused finale – if the key to Lewis’ (the main character’s) Blackness is the “Good judgment” of his ancestors, wouldn’t it be a bad idea to “ward them off?” If it’s meant to be a symbol of Lewis’ self-isolation, why bother? He’s isolated to begin with (though, again, the dramaturgy is sloppy here – we’re given no insight into what causes this self-isolation, what he has done to “sell-out” his race (other than “passing” on an over-hyped demonstration), or what he needs to do to “regain his pride.”

Fifth, and most egregiously, it fails at philosophy. It says that one’s individual achievements are pointless, that one’s history – no, one’s ancestors’ histories – have more relevance to who one is and who one should be. It is, in a nutshell, a modern, navel-gazing philosophy embraced by young writers too cowardly to find their own identity. It is saying that the victimhood of ancestors (note, I said “victimhood,” and not “deeds”) define them more than the cruel actions of a parent or the loss of a brother or even one’s own philosophies and actions and achievements.

To summarize, Lewis (a marvelous Rob Cleveland) is a middle-aged professor of mathematics who is suffering an insomniac night brought about by his impending divorce from a white wife who left him for not attending the Million-Man March. He is visited by the memories of four of his ancestors, all played by Eric Little. In alternating monologues, we see the history of this family (at least the history of one strand – the playwright conveniently forgets that Lewis had eight ancestors in his great-grandfather’s generation – no, not ignores, but implies that their stories are all the same). Each ancestor is an embodiment of different “type” – Great-Grandfather Simon, a freed slave suffering under the Plantation system; Grandfather Jessie, jailed for entering a white church and lynched for daring to vote; Father Charles, drunk and abusive; brother Rex, dead of a drug overdose. Mr. Little’s performances sometimes verge on the caricature (his Simon seems to be right out of a minstrel show), but that can be forgiven, given how quickly he must establish them, and how little he’s given by the playwright to work with.

What’s especially aggravating about this, is that, occasionally, Lewis is allowed to express his individuality, his pride in his own achievements. But every time he does, he is “shouted down” by his ancestors, who, incidentally, are never credible as Lewis’s memories or “ghosts.” They are always an obvious stand-in for the writer’s soapbox. All of Mr. Little’s characters ask him “who’s your audience,” as if any achievement is only for the benefit of someone watching. These characters are also always venting about “whitey” (and is anyone else finding that term increasingly offensive?), as if the “victimizers” are a monochromatic, characterless “evil.” And, of course, the implication of the entire piece is that “Blacks” need to be monochromatic and characterless themselves. Achievement is Bad! Individuality is Bad! Why isn’t this idea being boycotted by African Americans everywhere? If I find it this offensive, why don’t they, since they are the victims of this theatrical lynching?

At one point in the play, Lewis describes how his father beat him for bringing home a bad report card, how the beating sent him to the hospital with broken ribs and a shattered collarbone. His recollection is that his father wanted to “beat the black out of him.” His brother Rex smugly pronounces, “And he succeeded.” Given that this beating is really what Lewis’s life was a reaction to, how his achievements and success are the end result of this beating; this should be a celebration. Instead, his ghosts, no -- this playwright -- is telling us that this is a bad thing.

I’m sorry, but, even the skills of gifted actor and storyteller Rob Cleveland cannot make me swallow this shallow and offensive line of thought. This play is a celebration of victimhood, a racist diatribe against achievement by African Americans, a checklist of all the evils done through the years by “whitey,” and a shallow compendium of stereotypes.

To repeat, I HATED HATED HATED this play!

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)


3/1/2008 Addendum

I was going to hold off copying this to this site until after the show closed, but someone pointed out that that would be unfair -- it would give the production no opportunity to rebut my arguments, making me more or less unanswerable to the damage I created by the Theatre Buzz posting. Of course, “someone” was right, especially since a member of the production team has already commented on the foolish vent someone else posted earlier. (Unlike that “venter,” I had no thought of leaving the show early – I was expecting Lewis to be given the opportunity to fully defend himself and his life, and, much of my poor reaction to the piece is due to him not being given that opportunity. It’s hardly a “meditation of blackness” if only one point-of-view is presented and no rebuttal is allowed.

In an interesting bit of juxtaposition, this past weekend, I was given the opportunity to do lights for a recital of Marietta’s “Rhapsody’s Revue,” a troupe of dancers and poets and actors and musicians formed to celebrate the culture and history and lives of Black Americans. Combining African, Southern, Caribbean, and Historical tropes and styles, these talented dancers celebrated what it meant to them to be alive. It was a joy to work with them, because, they celebrated ALL aspects of who they were, their ancestral routes, their different paths through history, and ALL the dances and songs and stories accumulated through the centuries. It was a total non-judgmental celebration, acknowledging that American “Blackness” has many roots and causes and characteristics and symbols of pride. Yes, the stories of victimhood are there, but they are far overshadowed by the celebrations of community and love and pride.

Perhaps this comparison presents a reason “Blue Door” may have been doomed as an idea – to only present a single character as representative of “all Blacks” is to necessarily commit the project to a single point of view. To not even acknowledge Lewis’s achievements as worthy of pride, as a another chapter in the Complex novel that is Black America, is to frankly betray that character and that contribution. If Ms. Barfield wanted to give us a “Meditation on Blackness,” why not give us several characters in conflict, each representing a different aspect of history or culture or identity? If she wanted to celebrate the achievements of her own ancestors, why not show us what they accomplished in the face of all this victimhood she’s so fond of wallowing in? Great-Grandfather’s story would have made a great play in and of itself – a slave learning to read in the midst of a Plantation Society? That’s an inspiring story! To see him judging Lewis for taking that “banner” to a higher level is just insulting.

To be sure, this play made me angry, and, as such, I’d actually like you to see it, to show me where I’m wrong in my analysis. Contrary to the popular trend, I dislike writing negative columns – it’s hard to let go of the anger, and it puts the lie to my pretentions of being “an advocate of theatre” rather than a critic. But being an advocate, I suppose, sometimes means providing a “tough love smackdown” when it is needed. And I would like nothing better than to be proven wrong.

In summary, this play raises topics that should be discussed, conflicts that need to be resolved to maintain a healthy society, stories that, if not known, should remain familiar (almost cliched) to prevent them being forgotten. Under normal circumstances, this would have rated a high score in spite of misgivings I may have had about the production or play. But, here, the contrivances, the conclusions, the judgments, and the blatant self-stereotyping all make anything good about this play bitter. This is what drove my ultimate “Grade” to absolute zero. So, regretfully, I will stand by it.

-- Brad


[POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]
by TheaterReview
Was this review on Theatre Buzz?

I checked occassionally over the past week since you mentioned it the forum, but never saw it anywhere.

-ryanj
by Dedalus
It was on last Tuesday's Newsletter. TB seems to be concentrating on their Newsletter and updating the "static" site only every few weeks.
by TheaterReview
I don't blame them. Theater websites are for losers.
Blue Door Musing by Story Guy
I always look forward to your reviews, both the good reviews, the not-so-good reviews. I have never written to this site before, but your review of Blue Door got me thinking a lot. First off, in the spirit of total honesty, I am in the production, playing Lewis. Your review raised so many interesting and thoughtful points that I do not know where to start. First, thanks for posting this during the run. Your anger is understandable. Tanya is a young playwright and took on a subject that many African-Americans in their forties, fifties and sixties wrestle with on a daily basis. Lewis (the character) does not speak for every black person, he speaks for his own struggle with "blackness". Even that term is bothersome. What is "blackness" and who gets to decide what that means. Obama is considered by some to not be "black" enough. What the %#@* does that mean? Both Obama and August Wilson were raised by their white mothers and their extended white families. Who defined the "blackness" of these gentlemen as they were growing up? To address some of your points.
-Lewis's wife does not leave because of the march. She leaves after 25 years of watching her husband struggle with nature of his existence. frankly, I am amazed that she stayed with him as long as she did without smothering him in his sleep.
-I do have to disagree with your saying that Lewis does "nothing" during this journey. He wrestles with, and ultimately confronts memories that have been buried deep down for years, which is what a lot of us do with things that are too painful to deal with on a daily basis. The problem with Lewis is that by running from the pain, he ultimately runs from himself.
-Don't get me wrong, I agree with you that on the surface it seems as if this successful man has achieved his success as a high cost. It costs him his wife, his father and his brother, even though I think that the journey will be the start of the healing for Lewis's life. Remember, his wife has just walked out on the night in which this play happens.
-Lewis has devoted his life to the belief that the past events exist on their own and have absolutely nothing to do with the present. That is part of the reason that the book he writes to justify this belief fails so badly. the past always has ripple effects to the present and the future.
-Okay, I am starting to ramble, I was going to say more about the review, but I will stop with this. Thank you for getting angry about the play, thank you for thinking about the issues that it raises. This is not an easy play to watch, believe me, I understand that. It was a ridiculously hard piece to mount. That having been said, I am as proud of my work in this as I have ever been in any show that I have done. Audience reactions have run the gamut from tears to sneers. I have felt the discomfort of some of our audience members(black and white), and I don't think that is a bad thing. Mostly, I wanted to thank you for your thoughtful analysis of the production. I would rather have ten thought out "bad" (I hate that term) reviews than fifty reviews along the lines of; "Wow, everyone worked really hard" or "This is the worst play I have ever seen" as the entire "review". Keep on doing what you are doing. And when is some theater going to to get off their butts and hire you as a dramaturg? (This is a serious question and not a transparent attempt to suck up to you) I always look forward to your reviews and look forward to meeting you in person. Peace.

Rob Cleveland
Now THIS is What I'm Talking About by Cavendish
Bravo. Finally, some authentic give and take. This is what I come to here to read. For the first time in a long time I am motivated to see a play due to well thought out criticism and an insiders thoughtful response. The kids on this site could learn so much from this example. Alas, I can wish. Thank you for your reply, Mr. Cleveland. I wish you had addressed all the interesting points Dedalus made. Dang, this is great to see.
Perceptions and Intentions by Dedalus
Mr. Cleveland:

Thanks for your thoughtful rebuttal. To continue the dialog, there are a few additional ideas I'd like to toss into the ring.

Admittedly, my knee-jerk anger after the play very possibly tossed up some blinders in my memory about what was actually said and not said on stage.

I left the play remembering it not as a dialog or struggle with what it means to be black, but as a dictation that there is a standard and Lewis is found wanting. That's the hardest part to get my mind past. It seemed to me that Ms. Barfield had placed herself in the position of "the one who decides what black is" -- this was characterized by Lewis being overruled every time he tried to defend himself, and the implication that Rex is somehow "better" than Lewis, even though we never see what aspects of "being black" he exemplified (and, more to the point, that absence carries the implication, intended or not, that his "street cred" as a "drug addict" was what defined his "blackness.")

It's also difficult to get by the past that Ms. Barfield created for Lewis, the sense of victimhood that dominates them. Yes, I like that Lewis has to come to terms with his past -- he, too, is a victim of the chain of history that brought him to this night -- but the significant point is that he has good reason to bury that past. It put him in a hospital, killed his brother, and made a monster out of his father. And the fact is that burying that past compelled him to learn and achieve. I'm not sure that Ms. Barfield gave us (or Lewis) enough reason to tear down that wall.

I read the character arc as actionless simpless because, in the end, I didn't see Lewis acknowledging the source of his malaise, or acknowledging his own achievements, and I had the feeling his confrontations with his ghosts could be repeated endlessly with no change in either his protective walls or his acknowledgement of the place his memories/history have in his life.

Just to go out on a speculative note, I would have liked to see the ancestors limited to Great Simon -- here was an ancestor Lewis knew in old age, who also respected learning (and risked much for it), who also has to answer for the affects his life had on the intervening generations. The two of them could then struggle with each others' issues -- Simon acknowledging responsibility for Lewis' life, Lewis acknowledging Simon as the key through this dilemma, both seeing how history shaped their lives and families.

I would have liked to see this as a story of this particular family, these particular men, rather than a more grandiose examination of "what it means to be black," an examination I personally find doomed to failure, self-stereotype, and ultimately, meaninglessness. Meanings, in a racial sense, are societally based, and those standards are built on sand -- they change with time, with location, and can be easily rebelled against at an individual level. The play toys with this idea -- Being Black is very different for all five characters -- I just couldn't escape the feeling that the play was judging them for how they were defining themselves.

BTW, yes, now that you talk about it, I do see how the Million-Man March thing was a just a catalyst for a long-simmering departure, and, it makes dramatic sense for Lewis to obsess about it -- After a breakup it's ALWAYS what the other person did just before the end that dominates our thoughts and compulsions. As more speculation, maybe if we had seen Lewis' wife, heard a bit of her side of the argument, we may have gotten a clearer picture of the tensions that had crept into the marriage, and of the demons Lewis hides from himself, but not from those around him. The ghosts in his memories, unfortunately, share his blinders.

Again, thanks for your rebuttal, and I ALWAYS look forward to your work (if that's not sucking up).

-- Brad
Time for honesty by Richard Long
Ok, anyone that knows me on this site knows that I am here to do what I can to upset someone. That's the point of my existence. Why would I stoop to that kind of behaviour? Well, it's because I get so sick of the crybabies, the unprofessional wimps that can't take criticism, the mothers who are so sensitive to anyone telling them their child sucked as an actor, the people that review themselves and think we're too stupid to figure it out, and the amazing number of "new" reviewers that seem to appear every time a show is staged and their reviews all seem to be the same in nature. These people have no idea how much they get under my skin. Well, actually, they do know, because I make it known in a "friendly" way.

Then, we have this kind of review and response. I am actually glad to open this page and see this kind of thing. Brad has built himself a reputation for being the kind of person that gives a whole hearted review whether good or bad. The only time I've ever seen anyone act like a wimpering crybaby with his reviews is when it is a person who probably has never read a single review by Brad Rudy. They don't know him. This person obviously does as they stated. They actually paid attention to what he was trying to say and took it in a mature fashion. Keep it up Brad, without you, this site would slowly fade into a site run by someone like Cynthia McKinney.
A Disaster
by J_Wild
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
0.5
I cannot even describe it...It was the worst show I have ever seen. I left near the end. Do not waste your money! If you know me, then you'll know that I always have positive things to say about every show...I couldn't find anything positive about this show. Do not waste your money! I was incredibly disappointed with this production. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]
Why? by Okely Dokely
Okay...why didn't you like it? No offense, but this was a very generic review that could have been copied and pasted anywhere. You're usually more specific than this. I'd be very interested to know what made it a disaster.

Sorry if this sounds harsh. Early morning show for me.
why? part two by t-bone
I will start by saying that I am involved with this production. After checking with the crew and cast, no one has walked out on any of the performances to date(and trust me on this, the structure of the set and size of the house makes it impossible for someone to slip out before the end) This really is a review that could have been done about any production. No reasonable acting company expects every one to swoon over their work, but reviews should offer specifics about things that the reviewer liked or did not like if they are to have any value at all.


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