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Source: Downtown Los Angeles
Date: May 2, 2008
Byline: Julie Riggott

Robey Theatre Company's 'A House With No Walls' Brings a Twist to 'the Black Experience'

Excerpted from a longer article.

'The Problem of the 20th Century'

A House With No Walls is the final play in a trilogy about race relations in America. The Robey Theatre Company also staged Gibbons' Bee-Luther-Hatchee in 1999 and Permanent Collection in 2005 (which moved on to the Center Theatre Group's Kirk Douglas Theatre the following year).

Guillory, who will direct and act, said the plays have a similar theme: "Who has the power? Who has the power to make decisions that impact all of our lives?"

A House With No Walls is based on the real controversy that erupted in Philadelphia in 2002 when it was discovered that a new pavilion for the Liberty Bell was being planned on the site where George Washington's slaves once lived. The center of the conflict is the question of who gets to write or rewrite history.

"What's being said in this play is going to cause some grumbling, and that's exactly as it should be," Guillory said. "I'm not really interested in comfortable theater."

Gibbons, the playwright in residence at InterAct Theatre Company in the City of Brotherly Love, said of the trilogy: "The central issue is the contemporary repercussions of the racial divide stemming from slavery in America."

Because Gibbons is white, he has had to answer harsh questions from critics, who he said have asked, "What gives you the right?"

His response was Bee-Luther-Hatchee, the story of a black editor who discovers that the author of an autobiography she published is not a 72-year-old black woman, but a white man. "It is very much about the whole question of who has the right to tell a story," the playwright said.

Guillory agrees that it is possible for someone of another race to tell these stories. He seemed noticeably perturbed that anyone would question Gibbons' choice of subject matter. "W. E. B. Dubois said the problem of the 20th century is the color line. He was right. It's a problem of the 21st century, and it's going to be a problem of the 22nd century, at least in this country.

"This theater in many ways is a reaction to that. Often I worked in mainstream theater and I was the only black actor, and they didn't know what to do with a 6-foot-3 black guy. How inappropriate to not have the vision to look past all of that? The leaders of those theaters often did not look past that the same way they don't look past gender or age or physical impairment. It's not exclusive to African Americans.

"That means we found the need for a theater that specifically has an agenda and a mission statement that is about the black experience, but the black experience encompasses everything," Guillory said.

Given the universality of the human condition, he added that he wasn't surprised at all that Gibbons could so effectively portray the black experience.

"He's gifted that's he able to articulate it dramatically for the theater," Guillory said. "He's a dramatist and a force of intellect. He's very thoughtful, very intellectual and very unafraid. Extremely unafraid."

A House With No Walls opens May 9 and runs through June 15. The New LATC, 514 S. Spring St., (213) 489-7402 or robeytheatrecompany.com.

 

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