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Theater Review: Victory Gardens’ Blue Door—the story of a family’s history
By Edith McCauley
Victory Gardens’ unique history of staging original works has given playwrights the opportunity to see their plays performed in one of Chicago’s premier theaters. Tanya Barfield, named “One of the 21 Young Women to Watch in the 21st Century” by Ms. Magazine, has written extensively, and her work has been been performed throughout the world. Blue Door is the perfect choice for Black History Month, and the two actors, Lindsay Smiling and Bruce A. Young, who tell the story of their family history, do it with great sensitivity.
Young is Lewis, a professor of mathematics at a prestigious university. His multi-racial marriage has ended after a dispute with his wife of many years. She is determined that he acknowledge his racial identity in spite of a lifelong struggle to integrate into the white community. Seated in his elegant study, he dozes and wakens to find his deceased brother, played by Smiling, confronting him and forcing him to face the past he has so long ignored.
Smiling also plays their great-grandfather, Simon, the slave who, in spite of almost insurmountable difficulties, marries and begins the tale. Smiling’s ability to portray his ancestors so well gives the tale complete authenticity. The dark side becomes apparent when Simon’s son, Jessie, is lynched, first hanged, then burned. The audience gasped, many apparently not familiar with similar events that occurred as recently as the 1930s.
Lewis is forced to face his true identity and realizes his father’s strictness was a result of the desire for his son to succeed. As Lewis gains that success, he becomes more and more alienated from his true roots.
Blue Door signifies the African custom that offers protection from evil, and several times during the telling of the tale, outcomes seem to verify that belief. Innumerable plays have been performed that detail the history of African-Americans in their journey throughout the world on the slave ships that so changed their lives. Barfield writes with a sense of that history, and how, for many, that history is rejected. Blue Door is a reminder to all of us that the past is always with us.
Victory Gardens is at 2433 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago, in the Biograph Theater. Take the Fullerton exit from the Kennedy Expressway. They do have valet parking. Running through Feb. 28, tickets may be purchased by calling (773) 871-3000.
Blue Door is a story that needs to be told over and over.
From the Feb. 24-Mar. 2, 2010 issue