There is nothing that will keep a mathematician up at night more than an equation that cannot be solved satisfactorily. But as the “Blue Door”, now playing at MOXIE Theatre demonstrates, proving the equation sometimes needs a more emotional approach.
Lewis, played by Vimel Sephus is said mathematician who is smart, well educated, and cultured and is also suffering from an intense form of insomnia. The insomnia is due to his wife leaving him with the final straw being that he wouldn’t go to the Million Man March on Washington. Also she says, “because of housework.”
While one cannot over stress the importance of household chores in a marriage, or the symbolism of attending the march, what Lewis really has to confront is his identity and his detachment of his personal family culture and history. Who is he? Has his assimilation into white academia been his way to avoid the pain of his personal and his forefathers past? Luckily, he is able to get more information for this problem when he is visited by four generations of his ancestors, all played by Cortez L. Johnson.
The first to arrive to give his psyche a quick kick is his brother Rex, someone who failed as magnificently as Lewis succeeded, and who died of a drug overdose. Rex is followed by their great-grandfather Simon who was born into slavery, his son and their Grandfather Jesse who went to jail for over a decade and was lynched in front of his own son, and their father Charley, who ended up becoming a depressed alcoholic. All of these characters have their pain and their pleasures that shaped their lives, and they are brought to life by Johnson with sensitivity and balance.
Lewis no less a challenging part, as Sephus has to navigate between a man who struggles to reconcile logic with emotion, and how his history has impacted his present. He also portrays Lewis’ white ex-wife, his father, and other various characters as the play progresses with a range from strength to vulnerability, ferocity to fed up.
Each actor has characters that are sharply drawn in short sketches, but feel very real and wholly realized. From the plantation owner to the wives at a faculty cocktail party, these characters are fully human and real as they highlight how racism impacting the members in this family have changed, but not disappeared.
While it covers a lot of serious ground, and pokes at some raw emotional wounds, both Sephus and Johnson have moments of comedic relief to provide a counterpoint to the pathos. I particularly enjoyed when Lewis is feeling particularly stressed and finding these spirits particularly distressing, he reminds himself to “Think about math.” One would guess that this is not the normal litany people ask themselves in fantastical situations.
Deftly directed with care by Delicia Turner Sonnenberg, this show allows the audience to sit in the shadows with Lewis as he watches other men’s stories take center stage. It is only when Rex challenges Lewis by taunting that Lewis is successful due to “ turning your back on everything that makes you black” does Lewis join in the battle.
All of this occurs on a set designed as a comfortable bedroom by Victoria Petrovich; but one that is bare of most personal items except for his clothing, underscoring a lack of history for the character. Lighting design by Sherrice Mojgani, and sound design by Emily Janowski help illuminate and emphasize the action.
While this story covers a lot of distressing incidents, is more than a litany of racism, or contemplation on the African American identity. It is also a meditation on family history and what ghosts haunt you and shape your life. It’s not until Lewis lets these spirits finish their tales does he find the missing souls were the components in the equation that adds up to the entirety of him.
“Blue Door” is running through March 5th. For ticket and show time information go to www.Moxietheatre.com