Astrid Riecken/For The Studio Theatre – Teagle F. Bougere in The Studio Theatre production of “Invisible Man.”
Bravo to The Studio Theater for bringing this production to DC.
About 50 years ago, Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man was part of my awakening to the realities of racism in this country.
In 1963, not long after reading it, I went to East Africa for a summer, and my understanding about racism was further enhanced by working with a multiracial group of American and Tanganyikan teenagers — all this in the larger context of East Africa. On returning to the US, the civil right movement was in full bloom: the March on Washington occurred the day I arrived back in the US.
But it was Ellison’s book with its powerful opening sentence, “I am an invisible man,” that truly began my awareness of what I had not seen nor understood when I grew up in Florida — a state as much a part of the South as Mississippi or Alabama.
I have since forgotten most of the details of Ellison’s book, but thanks to the invitation of a friend, we just saw a stage presentation of it at DC’s Studio Theater.
In Oren Jacoby’s adaptation of the book, every word of this production is Ellison’s as his ‘Invisible Man’ takes the audience on his journey from being a young man in the south to and through his true eduction in the north, largely in Harlem.
Not as powerful for me as the book, nonetheless this staging of Invisible Man is another way to understand what it is to be invisible and to understand what it is like to grow up being black in America. Presented in a multi-media format, the ten actors and actresses (most playing more than one role) bring the book to life. Some scenes are very powerful; some are good; and some fall flat and seem unnecessary.
The first two acts are better than the third (which could use a bit of pruning), but even though this production is three hours long (with two intermissions) and is heavy on the dialogue and monologue, the audience seems to stay with it through the evening. That is in part because of the creative staging and the good use of music, lightening, set design, and video. It is also because the story is so nuanced, so layered, that each incident reveals another aspect about the black struggle to be visible.
Some of the acting is simply terrific. Teagle F. Bourgere, as the ‘Invisible Man,’ has the most demanding role as he’s on stage for the entire three hours. Whether it is because of how the role was constructed or because of his acting, I found myself wishing for a more powerful performance from him. Not so, tho, from the strong supporting cast. They are terrific.
Try to see it if you can. It’s a production you will remember.
Studio Theatre’s Invisible Man will be here for just another couple of weeks, ending with an afternoon performance on Oct.21. For tickets, check out the theatre’s website.