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The Blue Door to History

September 29, 2007

The Blue Door to History

-Kwan Booth

Lineage can be a tricky thing. The need to understand where you come from sometimes contradicts the desire to fit in and be a part of the larger world. This can be especially true for black people, with our complicated relationship with this country. Some choose to ignore the legacy of slavery and sharecropping while others wear the shared experience like a badge of honor, making sure you never forget.

“I’m proud to be descended of slaves” says Tonya Barfield, writer of “The Blue Door,” a new play at the Berkeley Rep which deals with history and family, and one’s acceptance or denial of them.

The play, directed by respected actor and Oakland resident Delroy Lindo, follows Lewis (David Fonteno), a middle aged African American mathematician and philosophy professor, though a night of visions, flashbacks and revelations.

The two man play, which also stars Teagle F. Bougere, opens with Lewis describing how his wife, who is white, has left him over his refusal to attend the Million Man March. She accuses him of “resisting the urge to look at himself” and denying his “greater personhood and dimensionality.”

Over the course of a night, Lewis suffers from an insomnia that calls up the ghosts of his dead brother, father and great grandparents among others. Through a series of interactions with these characters, he is forced to come to terms with his prejudices against his past and his people.

The production feels like a combination between “A Christmas Carol” and “Drop Squad,” the 1994 political satire about a group of militants who kidnap and “reprogram” African-Americans who they feel have sold out “the race.”

The title refers to a belief, held in many indigenous cultures, that painting a blue door on the wall “keeps the night terrors out, keep your soul family in.” Throughout the play characters are forced to either allow or block the passing-of “ghosts”, family members, and memories. Lindo says he was drawn to the play by a specific scene.

During a dinner party, Lewis encounters an upper class white woman who is uncomfortable with his presence. In an effort to seem more non-threatening, he fidgets and fumbles with his hands, unsure of how to deal with the situation.

“That theme summed up something very fundamental for me. To be a black man in America having to allay other people’s fears based on what we look like. I felt that it would be interesting to deal with.”

During the scene, Lewis describes how the attendees, fellow academics, are “delighted to meet a black mathematician. It’s such a rarity, like food that’s been ordered from overseas at an absorbent price.”

This feeling of objectification, along with the need to overcompensate for the feelings of those around them, is something not often dealt with in the theater, or art in general.

“Lewis was my way of dealing with the identity of black Americans that are not represented in media.

Denzel, Hallie, 36 Mafia-these are the kinds of black images that our awards system embraces. A majority of black culture is not those people and it’s equally important to tell these stories.

It was a learning process because I realized that I wasn’t represented, but there are also other types of stories that don’t get told. There’s a misunderstanding that these blacks don’t exist.” This play gives solid proof that they’re wrong.

The Blue Door plays at The Berkeley Rep from now through May 20. For more information go to


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