Beyond the Fourth Wall 

Our critics review local theater productions.

Blue Door - In Tanya Barfield's gripping new play, Lewis (David Fonteno), a fiftysomething African-American Ivy League math professor newly abandoned by his white wife, goes through a sleepless night in which he's visited by the spirits of several generations of the men in his family: his slave-born great-grandfather Simon; his grandfather Jesse, who grew up under Jim Crow; and his militant brother Rex, all played by Teagle F. Bougere. The focus is quite properly on the performances in film actor turned director Delroy Lindo's production, but a few supernatural visual elements feel ill-fitting, such as Emilio Sosa's curiously fantastical set with a starry background and an impossibly high bookshelf filled with illuminated texts. Though the interaction between the two has some pacing problems, Fonteno wrings a surprising amount of humor out of his dark night of the soul, and Bougere brightly embodies sharp and fast-talking Simon, similarly sly and charming Jesse, and the confrontational but unexpectedly wry Rex. (Through May 20 at the Berkeley Rep; or 510-647-2949.)

Death of a Salesman - Traveling Jewish Theatre artistic director Aaron Davidman's staging sets out to bring to the surface a Jewish identity implicit in Arthur Miller's classic of American drama, but that's ultimately incidental next to how rare it is that the play is done so well. Most astonishing is Corey Fischer's Willy Loman, with all the stubborn pride and insistent insecurities visible in his slumped frame, getting more painfully hunched in on itself as the play goes on, and audible in his incessant, animated ramblings to people both in the room and in his head. Jeri Lynn Cohen has a warm, mild presence as wife Linda, though the weight of the years is missing in her performance. Michael Navarra gives son Biff's resentment and outsize physicality the right amount of underlying solicitude, and John Sousa is a wonderfully twitchy bundle of nerves, lusts, and aspirations as younger son Happy. (Through April 29 at Traveling Jewish Theatre and May 24-June 10 at the Julia Morgan; or 415-522-0786.)


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