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Source: Philedelphia Weekly
Date: January 31, 2007
Byline: J. Cooper Robb

Walls of Shame

In InterAct Theatre Company's world premiere production of Thomas Gibbons' A House With No Walls, we meet a character rarely seen in the almost uniformly liberal world of contemporary American theater: an intelligent conservative.

The third installment in Gibbons' trilogy on race, House is inspired by the controversy surrounding the construction of the Liberty Bell Center on the site of George Washington's former residence (which included slave quarters).

Set in Philadelphia, where one character observes the past is "exploited" for tourist dollars, the play travels between 1797 and the present day to debate how the nation — and African-Americans in particular — choose to remember the scourge of slavery. Representing one point of view is community activist Salif Camara (Johnnie Hobbs Jr.), who feels it's essential for African-Americans to remember the horrors of slavery and demands a memorial be constructed on the site of the slave quarters. Conversely Cadence Lane (the excellent Tracey Conyer Lee), a conservative African-American woman hired to aid a new museum in designing its exhibits, feels Camara's approach reinforces a sense of victimization among African-Americans.

Instead of focusing on the horrors of the past Lane prefers to highlight the successes in the African-American community. The debate is well-presented by Gibbons and director Seth Rozin, but the characters are too narrowly defined and we never really come to know either beyond their cultural and political ideologies. And though the scenes involving the young slave Oney Judge (Lavita Shaurice) and her quest for freedom are inspiring, the historic characters are likewise one-dimensional. House isn't a magnificent new play, but the issues it raises make it a significant one.

 

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