Invisible Man, a play based on Ralph Ellison’s 1952 classic American novel of the same name, premiered at the Court Theatre in Hyde Park on Jan. 12 and ran through Feb. 19. Adapted for the theatre by Oscar-nominated writer Oren Jacoby and directed by award-winning director Christopher McElroy, this occasion marked the play’s world premiere.
The performance of Invisible Man began with the title character, a young, unnamed African America male, sitting in a bare basement room illuminated with 1,369 light bulbs, while listening to Louis Armstrong’s(What Did I Do to Be So) Black and Blue on a phonograph. The “invisible man” himself, portrayed by Teagle F. Bougere, took a look back on his life; beginning with the day the he won a scholarship to attend an all-black college in the Deep South during the early 20th century.
After entering college, the lead character lived through a series of events leading up to him being expelled and ultimately preyed upon in Harlem by a political organization called The Brotherhood. He was being molded into a speaker for the people under the guise of working toward social justice in Black communities. However, in reality he was espousing The Brotherhood’s elitist propaganda.
Ellison’s text is full of symbolism and social commentary. His use of blindness and invisibility throughout the story, both figuratively and literally, speaks to society’s inability to see people for who they truly are. The protagonist’s invisibility was highlighted during a pivotal moment in the final act of the three-act play through a vital epiphany about his life’s journey.
McElroy used the 251-seat theatre’s small stage efficiently by replacing traditional stage scenery with digital imagery and having the play’s ensemble act as stage crew throughout the performance. The execution of the play felt confusing and choppy in flow at times. There were moments where it seemed like pertinent background information was missing and the disconnection between scenes was obvious, especially to those who have read the novel.
Hands down, the breakout performance belonged to Bougere. His performance as the title character was convincing and remained true to Ellison’s vision. However, his long-winded speeches detracted from the movement of the play. In keeping with Black History Month, it is important to revisit the past while reflecting on the present and this play is a channel through which to do that. Although the book may be better, Invisible Man is definitely worth checking out when it returns to the stage.
Published: Saturday, February 25, 2012
Updated: Sunday, February 26, 2012 01:0