The audience is "a bunch of white people," says one of the many black characters in Blue Door. And he's not wrong.
The second show in Profile Theater's season dedicated to Pulitzer Prize nominee Tanya Barfield follows an insomnia-ridden professor who imagines meeting his dead ancestors. He's searching for an answer: Did he run away from his blackness by entering the white world of academia?
It begins with Lewis (Victor Mack), a philosophy and math professor, lying awake in a bed surrounded by chains, ears of corn, an African drum and a "White Only" sign. As Lewis talks about his life, he opens a metaphorical door to the past, allowing in a steady stream of visitors, all played by Seth Rue.
The two-tiered thrust stage is painted black with white mathematical equations. Ropes are stretched diagonally from the ceiling, and a full moon hangs overhead. It is not realistic. The set looks like a dreamland dimension between sleep and waking, and it creates the perfect, surreal world where Lewis meets his relatives.
But this isn't Dickens, and the ghosts of the dead don't appear floating in clouds of smoke. They arrive dressed in rags, a straw hat or a leather jacket and tell their stories like unwanted houseguests.
Like a cynical standup comic, Lewis stays straight-faced as he delivers jokes about his experiences as a black professor. He was afraid of trees because trees are in rural areas, and rural areas tend to be racist. The deadpan lines provide a much-needed breather from more serious monologues, like when Lewis describes a student yelling the N-word in class or another professor staring at Lewis' hands as if she were afraid of them.
The visitors' stories about racism are brutal. Lewis' grandfather gets publicly castrated, then burned alive, and they just keep coming. No matter how hard he tries, Lewis is never free from the threat of a sleepless night.