Part of African-American history is unquestionably white man's guilt. We feel bad for not doing more—but we rarely act on our feelings. On Sunday, a matinee of South Coast Repertory's Blue Doorwas an exception: goaded by white guilt, I saw a roomful of people rise as one. (Then they left.)
Written by Tanya Barfield, Blue Door explores one African-American man's disdain for his heritage and indifference toward the sacrifices his ancestors—slaves, Black Panther types—made. Barfield's main character, Lewis (Reg E. Cathey), wishes people could just see him for the man he thinks he is: a darker version of a white man. Is that too much to ask?
Yep. Lewis is the last surviving member of his family, its last chance to perpetuate its name and legacy; and so, to help him remember that black is beautiful, he is visited one night by four generations of ancestors—think A Christmas Carol without Tiny Tim (or with a Tiny Tim who's angry, black and well-armed)—who take him on a journey from slavery through the Black Power years.
It must be an impressive script—but as played, Blue Door is hamstrung by its simplicity. There are no changes in set design or wardrobe, and the entire play is performed by only two actors, which makes it hard to follow. Then, too, I was a little distracted to see Cathey as Lewis—remembering him so vividly as Dirty Dee from Pootie Tang.
The payoff for me wasn't the play but its end, at which the entire audience stood and clapped for this somewhat average production. I looked around—finally—at the people sitting next to me, to figure out why they were so impressed. And then I realized I was surrounded by a bunch of old white people.
Applause never sounded so frightening.
BLUE DOOR AT SOUTH COAST REPERTORY, 655 TOWN CENTER DR., COSTA MESA, (714) 708-5555. TUES.-FRI., 7:45 P.M.; SAT.-SUN., 2 & 7:45 P.M. THROUGH MAY 14. $28-$58.