InterAct Theatre, 2030 Sansom St., a cutting edge company featuring bold and provocative themes, is presenting the National New Play Network World Premiere of "A House With No Walls," by playwright Thomas Gibbons.
Dubbed "a groundbreaking new drama inspired by Philadelphia history," the two-hour production is indeed inspired by the controversial Liberty Bell Center, which opened in July 2004.
Gibbons has an impressive track record with InterAct Theatre, which has premiered six of his plays, including "Pretending to America," "6221," "Axis Sally," "Black Russian," "Bee-Luther-Hatchee," and "Permanent Collection."
Known for his complex characterizations, Gibbons introduces us to Cadence Lane (Tracey Conyer Lee), a dedicated author and educator with a Type A personality and an ultra-conservative outlook. She has written a popular and important book, "The Race Circus," which is gaining a lot of attention and has made Cadence a hot commodity on the lecture circuit. She also sits on a panel that is constructing the new American Museum of Liberty, which happens to be on the grounds of George Washington's Philadelphia home, including its slave quarters.
Heading the effort to reconstruct those quarters as a monument to the centuries of pain and toil suffered by African Americans is Salif Camara (Johnnie Hobbs Jr.), a passionate, ultra-liberal activist who is constantly at odds with Cadence, seeing her as a "house negro" who pretty much feels that Black folk need to "get over it" and move on — the way she has.
Gibbons uses the clever dramatic device of incorporating the story line of "The Race Circus" into the overall plot, simultaneously sharing the saga of Oney Judge (Lavita Shaurice), a slave who was once owned by George Washington before finding the courage to escape to freedom via the Underground Railroad.
The small cast, which is typical of InterAct productions, is stellar throughout, with Lee giving a realistic portrayal of the brittle, uptight, Condoleezza Rice-like Cadence. Johnnie Hobbs Jr.'s interpretation of Salif was reminiscent of the passionate grassroots approach that the late state Rep. Dave Richardson took toward local issues — whether it meant rallying the troops or having a lively one-on-one debate with a constituent on a street corner.
Seth Reichgott was an unexpected source of comic relief as Cadence's oft-uncertain colleague and ex-boyfriend, Allen Rosen, whose dialogue ran the gamut from unvarnished truth to zany oneliners. Lavita Shaurice brings an innocence and honesty to the role of Oney Judge, who simultaneously represents the past, present and future of African Americans. As always, director Seth Rozin's minimalist approach is effective, allowing his accomplished actors the latitude to explore the material and expand on it.
As is the case with many InterAct Theatre productions, "A House With No Walls," playing through Feb. 18, will entertain and inform, while sparking serious conversation. InterAct Theatre Company's Box Office: (215) 568-8077 www.InterActTheatre.org