Reviewed by Jerry Kraft
"Blue Door" by Tanya Barfield is, quite simply, the finest production of the best new play that I've seen in at least a year. A profoundly personal examination of one man's crisis of identity, it is an intense, moving, perfectly tuned and meticulously crafted drama. The acting is impeccable, the direction by Leigh Silverman perfectly paced and accented, and the play itself a soaring, lyric, exquisitely articulate poem. This is that exceptionally rare evening in the theatre when everything about the production is perfectly right.
As a mathematics professor who can no longer prove any of the equations of who or what he is, Reg E. Cathey is understated and convincing, an affectingly human-scaled man at the end of a towering cultural and family history. His wife has left him, he has been put on involuntary sabbatical by his school, and in an empty house on the longest, loneliest night of his life, he is visited by the family, and by the history which is the only authentic answer to who he really is. Cathey plays the part with control and civility, a man who has risen to a level of professional accomplishment that should be satisfying, but isn't.
The play asks serious questions about the degree to which a man is willing to compromise his racial identity in order to achieve a degree of social success. Cathey presents Lewis as an articulate, moderate, decent man who simply wants to be somebody. With his deep, elegant voice and his slightly broken posture, we see a man who balances his spoken certainty with a literally unsteady stance in the world. By the later parts of the play, when he is broken by his final acknowledgement of those who have shaped him, Cathey is so emotionally authentic, so sympathetically raw that the play approaches the genuine grandeur of catharsis, that great apex of classical tragedy.
Filling the rest of the world inside this desolated man are the characters played by Hubert Point-Du Jour, a young actor of extraordinary versatility and technique. Whether playing the slave Grandfather, the abusive father or the black activist brother, Point-Du Jour creates well-rounded characterizations, each with a particular speech pattern, a specific attitude toward the world, and an irrefutable insistence on standing on his own piece of Earth, on his own experience, on his own meaning. Each of these characters are presented in monologues, and as in all the best monologues, we cease to be aware that this is speech and allow ourselves to enter a fully-realized, fully lived-in world.
What Tanya Barfield achieves in this play is to make a singularly personal story of one man expand to encompass a much larger story, much larger theme, while still remaining deeply intimate. Leigh Silverman directs this fine cast with an equally assured control of the performances and the material, always insisting that the voices are genuine and that the action is actual rather than melodramatic, more experienced than imagined. The simple scenic design (Narelle Sissons) uses only a slightly suspended platform, a few inconsequential furniture pieces, and an expansive wall of enclosure, interrupted only by a frequently invisible blue door that opens to allow the past to enter the present.
"Blue Door" is a powerful and authentic drama, given a stunning presentation by talented and passionate actors, an expert and insightful director, and above all by a brilliant and important young playwright. For African-Americans, the questions it raises are especially immediate and commanding, but the questions of knowing the authentic self, of feeling real connection to family and history, of knowing that what one is doing with life is meaningful and genuine, those are questions for all of us. "Blue Door" leads to some very important places.