Victory Gardens Theatre presents
2433 N. Lincoln
Written by Tanya Barfield
Directed by Andrea J. Dymond
Thru February 28th
Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission
“I don’t know why I am?” This question plagues the main character in Victory Gardens‘ Chicago premiere production of Blue Door. Playwright Tanya Barfield has created a work of dimensionality in the Pulitzer-Prize nominated Blue Door. Barfield’s main character, Louis, is plagued by insomnia, wife desertion and forefathers. A University mathematician, Louis has compartmentalized his past into equations of practicality. In one night of discussions with his dead great grandfather, grandfather, father, and brother, he is forced to confront the origin of his identity wrapped up in the essences of his ancestors’ past. The sum of Louis’ life no longer adds up. Tanya Barfield has weaved together 150 years of one black family’s struggle to solve the problem, “why I am?”
To illustrate the power of the past on the present, Blue Door introduces a cast of distinct and colorful characters and employs only two actors. With a variety of dialects, ages and gender, Lindsay Smiling and Bruce A. Young channel a plethora of personas. Since Young is playing Louis, Smiling is challenged with portraying a wider range of animation. A natural storyteller, Smiling shifts effortlessly from character to character with the aid of minimal props. In one exchange, his depiction of two different characters is so effective that when he points you can almost see the other person. At the beginning, Young is the unruffled stereotyped mathematician slightly perplexed over his domestic situation. Plagued by ghosts, Young shows true moments of contained vulnerability without emotionally unraveling. Summing it up, the combination of acting, writing and Andrea J. Dymond’s direction, Blue Door equals 100% compelling.
The set design (Keith Pitts) is a spectacular collision of past-present-future. Present is represented in Louis’ homey study slightly off center stage. Past is stark cubes on either side of the study. The future is sleek panels outlining the back of the stage and in a wave shape over Louis’ study. Throughout the show, these “future” panels feature video design (Liviu Pasare) as a visual aid component to the storytelling. The images enhance the emotion of the moment.
In ninety minutes, Tanya Barfield covers one family’s 150 year history. The progressive connections between the men is powerful. Individually, each man’s story could have been its own play. Collectively, it’s an engrossing “why I am?” story problem with many variables that coagulate into a satisfying “I get it” answer. Blue Door opens up a gateway of questions in the audience’s own mind about their personal life connections.
For me, the most pressing quandary “why did the woman behind me bathe in perfume before attending theatre?”
Channeling leftover holiday cheer, Dick calls the show “An Identity Carol.”
Victory Gardens pictures by Michael Brosilow.
WAITING FOR THE SHOW
Before the show, we eat at Clarke’s Diner, 2441 N. Lincoln. Located directly next door to the Biograph, it’s a perfect spot for a preshow bite and question life’s little moments. “Why I am… plagued with a sore throat?” I order a cup of chicken noodle soup and grill cheese on rye. “Why I am… describing restaurant soup as tasty ‘homemade’?” The server was fairly efficient in serving a pre-theatre crowd. “Why I am… getting a cup of tomato soup?” Although he did get rattled when he accidentally brought me a second soup, he was back on his game with the bill delivery. “Why I am… allowing Dick to pay?” But hey, some questions aren’t meant to be answered.