The Perisphere Theater opens a powerful and poetic “blue door”

The title of Tanya Barfield’s play blue door stems “from a belief in the Gullah culture that if you paint your door blue, you ward off evil spirits,” she said. These ghostly spirits, as she understands them, were “the white slave masters or KKK.” It’s a powerfully poetic picture for a powerfully poetic play, now unfolding in a beautifully staged and incredibly evocative production directed by Henery Wyand for Perisphere Theatre.

In the center of blue door is a man named Lewis (a comely expressive DeJeanette Horne) who lives behind a closed door of another kind, the one he uses to drive away from his consciousness the historical fact of being Black – the heritage generation of slavery and the psychic wound of racism. He is in his fifties, a brilliant student, a successful teacher, a philosopher of mathematics and he is married to a white woman. She, sensitive to his ambivalence about being black, urged him to participate in the 1995 Million Man March on DC, but at the start of the play she left him because he won’t. – also because he avoids his share of household chores. Deprived and beside himself, Lewis is now in his office trying to sleep on and off but beset by insomnia and apparitions of his ancestors.

Jaucqir LaFond (who appears as Simon, Rex and Jesse) and DeJeanette Horne (as Lewis) in “Blue Door”. Photo by DJ Corey Photography.

In his daydream, a cast of deceased characters dating back to the 1850s appear – including his great-grandfather Simon, born into slavery; his grandfather Jesse, freed then lynched; his father Charley, who drank and beat him; and his more militant younger brother Rex.

All of these spectral figures and more are portrayed with piercing grace and swift versatility by Jaucqir LaFond, a senior Howard University theater grad whose work first impressed me in a Young Playwrights virtual production. ‘Theater last March.

In multiple tales and depictions, from charming to alarming, LaFond surrounds Lewis with the past his mind doesn’t want to know. When we learn, for example, how Simon kindly wooed Katie, who belonged to the master of a nearby plantation, LaFond’s Simon comes alive with lively excitement. LaFond’s low-key account of Jesse’s lynching makes the mental picture all the more gruesome. And all along blue door are Barfield’s a capella songs, some in English, some in Yoruba, which, in LaFond’s beautiful voice, become haunting pleasures for the ear.

Jaucqir LaFond in “Blue Door”. Photos by DJ Corey Photography.

Vivid incidents of indignity abound in blue door both in Lewis’s life in the present and in the lives of his ancestors in the past. Among them are a familiar scene where Charley in a tuxedo at an all-white business social gathering is mistaken for a waiter, a historically resonant episode of early voter suppression, and a chilling vignette when 7-year-old Simon is assaulted by a 15 1 year old white male guardian.

Barfield’s poetry in blue door is the kind that sends shivers because it’s emotionally precise and deep. Here, for example, is a passage from the steamy scene in which Rex excoriates Lewis for his accommodation of “white eyes” (always looking at himself through white eyes) and his “fear of being black”:

Lewis: Your mentality, illiterate victim mentality, you call being black. You want me to talk, walk, hang out with the homies, gangsta rap my way to the American Dream by slapping our people out of intellectual parity.

REX: Stay true, Lewy-Sambo. [to the audience:] He’s a black-skinned white devil, my brother. [back to Lewis:] Come on, my brother, defame my image…. Tell Whitey about your drunk daddy, how you reinvented yourself in your own image, how you got up from your boots, you American dreamer. Tell them all after Malcolm and Martin fired, when I (your darker brother) tumbled out of the Movement. I ended up homeless and on crack. Why don’t you tell Whitey how our mama’s two boys (you the good son and I the bad one) suffer from the same disease, self-loathing, silent affliction, skin sore. Both of our father’s sons suffer from a phantom illness called self-hatred.

Henery Wyand not only directs with assured vision, but also designed the evocative set – a woodchip-covered surface in which the props and past are buried – the costumes and the sound of the staging. Adam Mendelson’s lighting flows in subtle sync with the emotions of the show. And the suits – chic silk pajamas for Lewis; coarsely spun henley shirt and suspenders for his unwanted visitors – are quite appropriate.

DeJeanette Horne and Jaucqir LaFond paint a door blue in “Blue Door”. Photo by DJ Corey Photography.

The eloquence of this beautiful piece is indescribable. Like the best of dramas, it opens a door to understanding. And the beauty of his staging is indelible.

Duration: 1h35 without intermission.

blue door plays until March 12, 2022, presented by Perisphere Theater at the Silver Spring Black Box Theater, 8641 Colesville Rd, Silver Spring, MD. Tickets ($34 regular price, $28 senior, $24 student) are available on line.

The blue door the program is online here.

COVID safety: Proof of vaccination against COVID-19, including a booster, is required to attend the play. Waiver requests must be made at least 48 hours prior to a performance. Customers are required to wear masks that provide a full seal over the mouth and nose at all times, except when drinking water. For more information on COVID protocols, see perispheretheater.com/covid-19-precautions/

SEE ALSO:
“Telling a Black Story by a Black Artist”: Henery Wyand on Making “Blue Door”
(interview with John Stoltenberg)

CAST
By Jeanette Horne as Lewis
Jaucqir LaFond: Simon/Rex/Jesse

CREATIVE TEAM
Tanya Barfield: playwright
Henery Wyand: Director/Sound Design/Set Design/Costume Design
Sarah McCarthy: stage manager
Kevin O’Connell: producer, playwright, prop designer
Adam Mendelson: Lighting Designer
Renata Taylor-Smith: Lighting Assistant
Steven Leshin: stage assistant

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