Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Play: Long Night of the Soul

Blue Door, written by Tanya Barfield, Directed by Leigh Silverman, Seattle Repertory Theatre, through 4 March.

So one of the things that doesn't show in this blog is the occasional block. I mean, I write about just about everything, so when I stop writing about a particular subject, it goes unnoticed. It is not that I don't have thoughts on related subjects, it is just that unless I get over it all an unburden myself on ONE piece that's bothering me, nothing else can be done.

I'm that way on books. I have a book I've been meaning to review, and I've been hesitant. So nothing else gets reviewed until I either decide that I finally get my act together to review it, or take the lesser course and tuck my tail between my legs and retreat.

And similarly, this play. I saw it a few weeks back, but unless I say something now, I'm pretty much taking myself out of future reviews, or hiding that I missed one. I mean, when I did miss seeing a play, I had Steve Miller take a bullet for me on The Great Gatsby, so that doesn't make much sense to dodge. So, like the protagonist in the play, I have to confront it, or be lessened for not confronting it.

And what I have to confront is simply this - for the first time in a long time I am of two minds about a play. On one level I see it as well-crafted, well-written, and very well-acted. On the other, it left me cold, and even repelled me in places. In the terms of a relationship, it was a bad date. No chemistry. And though it sounds lame beyond my years, I have to say, it wasn't you, it was me.

Here's the deal: Lewis (Reg. E Cathey) is having a long dark night of the soul - his wife has left him, his career is endangered, and he's frankly cracking up. He is visited by three ghosts or visions or halucinations, all played by Hubert Point-Du Jour - dead relatives, all - brother Rex, his Great Grandfather Simon, and his Grandfather Jesse. And they tell the family stories.

But a big part of what is driving Lewis's dying marriage, professional self-destruction and personal instability is his inability to be black, or to be sufficiently black, or by his betraying of his black heritage by being a Math Professor. And his ghosts tell him stories of slavery and drugs and lynchings, and he comes to some terms with his heritage, gets a bit of illumination, and there is some closure.

And it left me cold, and I still can't figure out exactly why. Part of it is that there is a bit of anti-intellectualism at work here - that being smart is being white, which is a bad thing. There's a headnod at the end about him being the family's achievement and the ancestors being proud, but the grit that is winding Lewis down is that he is too smart for his own good, that it doesn't fit with his heritage, and that knowledge causing him to flake out. And because the play delves deep into racial differences, that puts education as a "white" thing, which is something that I just can't buy into.

That's part of it. And part of it the revisiting of a horrific picnic-basket lynching. And by that phrase I mean one where where the hanging of a human being becomes a party, people show up with dishes to pass, have their pictures taken with the corpse, and make postcards of the event. All too true, but there were shocked tsks from some of the mostly-white audience, as if this was the first they had heard of it. What, you didn't know that is part of our heritage? And by ours, I mean American heritage, not just parts of the south that are brought out as the usual suspects in such cases. It is not just that a gruesome crime was added to the mix, it was that beyond the walls of the theater is was much worse and much more widespread.

Yet that's not exactly it either. I want to like the play - the actors were top-knotch, and I simultaneously Lewis and wanted to shake him. I rail about plays with easy answers and pat pacing, yet when presented with something like this, here I am poking and prying at it and try to solve it like it was a math problem. And I don't think it is a play to be solved as much as embraced, and I don't feel like embracing it.

So as I said, it's not you, it's me.

On the other hand, I've been pacing around with this for my own long nights of the soul for the past two weeks, which is more than most plays give me. So on one level, perhaps it was a very good play after all.

Yeah, I'm leaving the matter unsettled, because that's the way I feel.

More later.