Moxie’s “Blue Door” Paints Compelling Portrait of Ancestral History

 

By Barbara Smith

Under the expert helm of founding Artistic Director Delicia Turner Sonnenberg, the Moxie Theatre has long given San Diego theatre lovers stimulating out-of-the-box theatrical experiences, and its current production, “Blue Door,” is such a work. The play, which has been extended through March 5, delves deeply into the psyche of Lewis (Vimel Sephus), an African American man who is wrestling with demons from the past which are preventing him from moving forward. The 90-minute play takes place within the space of one sleepless night, but through a series of visitations of 3 generations of his ancestors–Simon, Lewis’ great grandfather, born a slave; Rex, Lewis’ brother, a 60’s radical struggling with drug addiction; and Jesse, Simon’s son, who endures the Jim Crow years in the South (all played brilliantly with seamless transitions by Cortez L. Johnson)—we embark on a journey through history and time that opens doors of understanding of how our own ancestral heritage shapes who we are today.

Lewis, portrayed with finely shaded hues by Vimel Sephus, is a man in turmoil, who seems to be folding in on himself, having just been left by his wife of 25 years, who is white, the reason, ostensibly because of his refusal to participate in the Million Man March (the play is set in 1995). He is a mathematics professor, presumably assimilated into the culture of the predominantly white university where he works, but the continuing thread in his story is the emotional and cultural disconnect that pervades his life.

On this particular night, the first after his wife has left, he alternately muses and rages, recalling her insistence that he has refused to accept his African American identity. Enter the spirits of his deceased ancestors, who force him to confront his personal and racial history. Cortez L. Johnson is remarkable in his ability to inhabit each of the characters, with varying dialects, intonations and postures, so that each personality is authentic and distinct. “I jus’ handin’ down old time stories,” he explains as Simon, and, through Pulitzer Prize nominee Barfield’s gift as a masterful storyteller herself, we follow Lewis’ epic journey through his dark night of the soul and his emergence to a place where he can acknowledge and embrace the past, allowing him to open a door to facing the future. The title of the play refers to a family memory dating to slave days when the door of their quarters was painted blue “to keep the night terrors out and the soul family in.”

Kudos to Scenic Designer Victoria Petrovich, who creates a visually poetic set, suggestive of Lewis’ desire to “get my house in order” but also embodying the magical confluence of past and present. Indeed, the contributions of the entire creative and technical team—all women, in keeping with Moxie’s mission to uplift and embrace roles of women in our culture—is impressive.

In a conversation after the play, actor Cortez L. Johnson reflected, “After a production like this you can’t walk the same.” The play is a watershed experience for audience members as well, and, says director Sonnenberg, “New things happen in each performance. Every night of insomnia is a brand new night for the characters.” So just as his ancestors haunt and then lift Lewis to a new place of understanding after his long troubling night, so too are we uplifted, knowing that as we listen to the voices of our past, we can open doors to our own history and consciousness.  Thoughts raised in “Blue Door” about how to navigate our own identity, purpose, and connection reverberate long after the performance and there’s a good chance these musings will keep you awake at night too.

For ticket information, visit www.moxietheatre.com or call 878-598-7620.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.