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San Francisco by Richard Connema

A Century of African-American Experience in 90 minutes in Blue Door

Also see Richard's reviews of Private Jokes, Public Places and Gay Divorce

Blue Door
Teagle F. Bougere and David Fonteno
Berkeley Repertory Company is currently presenting Tanya Barfield's Blue Door, which runs through May 20th on their Thrust Stage.  Teagle F. Bougere and David Fonteno embody many African-American characters in this 90-minute, one-act production. The play premiered at New York's South Coast Repertory last year and then moved to Playwrights Horizons in October 2006 where it received good reviews. Seattle Repertory Theatre presented a production earlier this year.

Blue Door centers around Lewis (David Fonteno), a brilliant and respected African-American mathematics professor at a well respected university.  He is probably more white than black and believes he has smoothly assimilated himself into white society.  He is not interested in black studies or American history. Lewis is only interested in math because, as the playwright has said, it is separated from reality.

Lewis quotes the great African-American author W.E.B. DuBois as he tells the audience, "Blacks see themselves through the eyes of the other. You're always aware of yourself as being watched by the white gaze.  What are they gonna think if I do this?, I'd better not do that because ..." He is having an identity crisis because he is incapable of accepting his own blackness.

The drama is set in 1995 at the time of the Million Man March in Washington D.C.  The play opens with Lewis sitting alone in his empty house since his white wife of 25 years has left him because he will not accept his black heritage and join his brothers in the march. In the silence of his isolation, his brother Simon (Teagle F. Bougere), who died from a drug overdose years before, visits him to tell the professor of the four generations of his ancestors and relatives. Simon gives Lewis a lesson in black history through 23 different characters. He tells of his ancestors' perseverance over the trials and tribulations of the past.  Simon shows the professor that there have been triumphs of his race over the years.

Blue Door's title comes from the isolated black culture of slaves prior to the Civil War living on the Sea Islands off the coast of South Carolina and Georgia. They were called the Gullahs, as the slaves were allowed to keep their indigenous culture. There was a belief that if you painted your door blue, you would keep away the evil spirits, which are called haints. This is what Lewis was trying to do with his life in the white world.

Teagle F. Bougere (A Raisin in the Sun, The Tempest, Macbeth, A Soldier's Play in New York, and Blue/Orange at Old Globe in San Diego) is magnetic in the role of Simon. He keeps his monologues entertaining and brings each character vibrantly to life. Bougere brilliantly introduces humor and humanity to even in the darkest stories.  This is an electrifying performance.

David Fonteno (Yohen, Stuff Happens, Hapgood in New York) underplays his role as Lewis.  He plays the straight man to Bougere's performance.   Fonteno is excellent when discussing a situation that occurs at the faculty cocktail party in which a well-meaning woman turns to him as the group talks about African-Americans in society and he becomes the subject of the discussion.  Fonteno is also allowed some dramatic acting at the end of the drama by becoming his alcoholic father.

Director Delroy Lindo, an excellent actor in his own right, helms a smooth production. His timing of the actors as they confront each other is excellent.  Kate Edmunds' set deign consist of large two-story high shelves of books on the back wall of the three-sided theatre. The props are simple, consisting of an easy chair, table and lamp and stacks of books around the edge of the stage. Lighting design by Kathy A. Perkins is bright. Songs written by playwright Tanya Barfield are in line with the African American experience.

Blue Door runs at the Thrust Theatre of Berkeley Repertory Theatre,  2025 Addison Street, Berkeley through May 20th. For tickets call 510-647-2949 or visit www.berkeleyrep.org. Berkeley Repertory Theatre will conclude the current season with Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist.


Photo: Kevin Berne


Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema



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