A House With No Walls is InterAct Theatre Company's contribution to the first-ever Philadelphia New Play Festival, and it was a wise choice. Set in Philadelphia, it's a play that will make you squirm with "white liberal guilt," laugh inappropriately, and possibly even reevaluate a few things you thought you believed. Over the course of two hours, I couldn't make up my mind about the issues at hand. It's one of those cases where everyone has a point.
A House With No Walls tells two stories: the first, set in present day, about the opening of a National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia, and the second, set in the late 18th century, about one of President George Washington's slaves. The two stories are both racially charged and racially driven, and playwright Thomas Gibbons portrays all involved parties in a fair light, doing justice to several different arguments while underlining the undeniable point that, ultimately, the one thing everyone can agree on is that racism is bad. That's not to downplay or mock his script. Gibbons actually avoids being too heavy-handed with his message, and for that, I was grateful. It gave me the opportunity to come to my own conclusions.
Director and InterAct Producing Artistic Director Seth Rozin did a wonderful job with his very talented ensemble cast (Tracey Conyer Lee, Tim Moyer, Lavita Shaurice, Johnnie Hobbs, Jr., Seth Reichgott, and Bowman Wright), aided immensely by the set that he and Peter Whinnery co-designed. The scenes move fluidly across between the past and present, walls open and close (when you need to, you can see through them), and the play's running time seems shorter than it actually is, as a result. I will note, however, that having the actors bring on incidental props while still in their costumes was sometimes jarringly anachronistic, and I'm not sure that that was the intent. But seeing, for example, slave Oney Judge deliver a desk to the Twenty-first Century office of Cadence Lane seemed inappropriate, at best. (That said, kudos to the cast for their rapid set and costume changes!)
If you do go to see A House With No Walls, be aware that people in the audience may be laughing at things you don't think are funny. (There's a line involving Oreo cookies that had one audience member behind me chortling for five minutes, but that my companion and I found to be really rather jarring.) For some, the laughter is a coping mechanism, while for others, it verges on the inappropriate. Gibbons' script has several funny lines, to be sure, but also several others that will have you asking yourself, "Is it okay to laugh at this?"
The theatre, however, is a safe space. It's okay to react, especially to something as uncomfortable as this subject matter.