Another Great Ensemble Show – This Town’s Been Crawling With ‘Em!

Just took in THE INVISIBLE MAN at The Studio Theatre and loved it. I think our student subscribers did too! Beautiful producing — a production that went through extensive workshopping, clearly, in New York (directed by Christopher McElroen, Founder of the Classical Theatre of Harlem) before its premiere last spring at The Court Theatre in Chicago. Loved its unfolding in three acts; three very well spent hours; deeply absorbing and refreshing in its novel theatrical choices (giving huge respect to the language of the novel itself). I’ll let our commenters hold forth. Only to appreciate that in this first month of theater-going, we’ve seen some great, great shows! Washington theater’s gotten off to an ambitious and brilliant start, and we here at Theater J are happy to be in the mix. Now here’s the money shot from the show at Studio.

This show inspires in so many ways. More on that soon!

13 thoughts on “Another Great Ensemble Show – This Town’s Been Crawling With ‘Em!

  1. I really enjoyed seeing Studio Theater’s production of Invisible Man this afternoon. I always prefer reading the books prior to seeing any movie/theater adaptation of a novel, though, so I wish I had the opportunity to read the novel beforehand. I intend to eventually, and it will be interesting to see how my perception of the story changes when I read it on paper as opposed to seeing it acted out.

    I can see why Invisible Man is such a must-read American novel. It has many intense portrayals of the difficulties of trying to sort out the meaning of race in post-slavery America. Although it was published sixty years ago now, many of the questions are still relevant today – what particularly resonated with me was the white man’s burden, and the uncomfortable way Mr. Norton and the white men in the “brotherhood” committed themselves to “bettering” what they emphatically referred to as “your people”, or, African-Americans, while never actually listening to what the narrator himself or other black men and women had to say. That issue of trying to help people while othering them and inadvertently denying them dignity, is something I still see reflected today in a lot of non-profit and international development work. It is something I care about combatting, so it was intriguing to me to see it in such a different setting.

    The two main themes I drew from Invisible Man were that of questions of fate and one’s own role in it. This happened a lot, I think, where the narrator found himself in a place that someone had told him he would end up in, whether it was his grandfather or in his later conversation with the man in the bar who punched Mr. Norman when he refers to the invisibility the narrator will later accept. This also happened to Tod Clifton, when he later sells the vaudeville dolls that are designed to mock his race, in a huge paradox. Another huge theme was that of whether the narrator was “Hired to talk vs. Hired to think.” This issue first comes up following the incident with Mr. Norton in his conversation with Dr. Bledsoe, the College president, who chastises him for his interpretation of his role and even his honesty. This happens again more clearly in his role at the Brotherhood, after he delivers Tod Clifton’s eulogy.

    In addition to all the themes and messages behind the play, I loved the staging and the intimate setting of the Studio Theater. The woman sitting in front of me was talking about how much she loved all the hanging light-bulbs and wanted them for her own apartment. I have to say, I agree!

  2. Watching the Invisible Man at Studio Theater was very impactful and moving! Unfortunately, this masterpiece was not a part of my high school reading collection, but watching the play has definitely motivated me to grab a copy of the book. The use of space during this play was brilliant! The play was essentially about one’s journey through a search for identity—going from darkness to light. While I believe everyone has gone through at least one moment where they have felt unrecognized or “invincible”, the character in this particular story has gone through invincible moments his entire life. It’s significant to point out that this particular individual was a black male and the time setting was the 50’s.

    One scene in the play that was personally impactful was watching the initial reactions of the Brotherhood after the Invincible Man gave his remarkable speech at fellow brother, Clifton, funeral. I will never forget Brother Jack piercing words—“We hired you to speak, not think!” To understand that the Brotherhood was not as genuine as they appeared to be throughout the play was a bit disappointing. For a second, I believed that the main character had finally found his identity; finally found a place of belonging. Instead, they used the invincible man, in fact all other black members, only to pursue their own underlying motives. As educated as he was, he was still invincible. Though the (whites) saw him, they did not recognize him as an individual. This ideal allowed me to really examine the minority fight in today’s society. “We hired you to speak, not think”, looks a lot to me like “we hired you to meet a certain quota, not to actually learn and give your input.” How many times do we fight for visibility? For our voices to be heard? For society to not just tolerate us, but appreciate and accept our individuality. We’ve made great strides as a society since the 50’s, but the fight still continues; not only for racial minorities, but for all minorities including gender and sexuality minorities, religious minorities, people with disabilities, etc.

    The play Invincible Man was an eye opening play that allowed the audience to face reality head on. Great production! I cannot wait to read the book.

  3. The Invisible Man was a well-done emotional production. From start to finish the cast effectively brings the voices and attitudes of the characters to life. The “Invisible Man’s” emotions brought a fresh perspective on racial tensions- that a racial struggle can also be an inner struggle.
    The narrator goes through a series of struggles in life, never seeming to catch a break, and then when he does, he finds the break to be not what he thought. Throughout the play, we see the main character alone among “his people,” and even betrayed by them. This portrayal brings to light a more nuanced display of the effects of racism in America that other plays have only briefly touched on. No matter where he goes and no matter who he sees, the main character is “invisible.” This is quite unique, considering his profession for the later part of the play as an orator. He is “seen” by hundreds of people a day, and even on the cover of Time magazine, but because of the manipulative “brotherhood,” his own image no longer reflects his real self.
    The artistry that went into the play by the Studio Theatre was truly impressive. The set was creative and resourceful, doing very little to change scenes. The way the characters used the entire theatre as a stage was, while at times a little startling, very engaging. I particularly enjoyed the last scene when the “Invisible Man” walks off the stage and directly challenges the audience to see him.

  4. I heard a lot about the book Invisible Man before, but I never had a chance to read it. Since I didn’t have much knowledge of the book when I watched the show, I was able to keep curious and eagerly follow as the main character went through his story. The show told a story of how a young man grew from a person who was confused about his identity and was constantly seeking recognition, to a person who was confident and was able to embrace his real self.

    Every human being is encountered with three basic questions when s/he grows up. “Who am I” “Where am I from” “Where am I going”. These questions are so simple, yet drive every individual crazy when s/he wants to find the answers. The main character, the invisible man, had a hard time trying to find these answers and figure out his position in this fast paced world. He tried to find who he was, but instead of asking himself, he always asked others and saw himself as what other people perceived him. When he was in school, he took in what other people expected him to do. He tried to be a good student, so he fighted in the white man club with other black teenagers, swallowed the blood in his mouth when he gave the speech, changed “equality” to “responsibility” in his speech. In university, he tried to please the trustee and the school president. In the beginning, the invisible man accepted the role that other people in the society expected him to play, and he thought that that was his real identity.

    When the invisible man was expelled from the school and found out that the school president set him up so that he could never find a job, he gained some objective knowledge of the society and started to reflect on his past. When he worked for the Brotherhood, he realized that the society only recognized him as what he looked like, what his color was, but failed to accept his inner ideas. In the end, he was able to accept his identity, discard other fake identities, feel confidence in himself, and pursue what he thought was right. Even though the society might still see him as “invisible”, he was mature enough to live in the complicated world.

    I really liked the show and the depth it revealed. The lights, the music, the stage setting were all amazingly cool. This theatre experience definitely encouraged me to read the original book and I am very interested in knowing how the author described the world that was presented on stage in words.

  5. Invisible Man, performed by Studio Theatre, explored racism through the lens of a man that struggled to understand his identity. Invisible Man’s memories develop the plot, and it does not take long to understand a central theme: blindness.
    Many of the characters are blind because they choose not to see others for who they really are, often blinded by race. The main character feels that others never see him and works throughout the play to change that. It seems prejudice also temporarily binds characters and critically impacts their judgment. Invisible Man is even literally blinded for a scene, when a pipe explodes in the paint factory, causing him to lose his memory and speech when he’s in the hospital. These interwoven ideas of blindness constantly keep the audience thinking about the horrors of racism in the past and questioning the current state of equality.
    Elements of blindness, nevertheless, were countered by elements of light. For example, Invisible Man’s basement full of lights was his pride and joy and seemed to be the place where he at least wasn’t blind to his own identity; it was the place where he could recall his past and critically examine his identity. It was in this brightly lit hiding place that Invisible Man gave some of his most powerful monologues, including those that spoke about his frustration with others refusing to see him. It was scene that had light that aroused hope for Invisible Man and for society’s eventual understanding of one another.
    I thought Studio Theatre created a wonderful set that allowed for a moving performance. One element of the actual performing that stood out to me was the use of the space in the theater, utilizing the isles and stage exits. I thought this added to the idea of feeling like the audience was a part of Invisible Man’s memories and drew me in to the storytelling.

  6. Invisible man performed at the Studio Theater is by far my favorite production that I have had the pleasure to view in DC. The acting was outstanding and the script was enlightening in an entertaining way. The title, Invisible Man, refers to the idea that the main character expressed in his opening lines of the production. The invisible man feels socially invisible to the rest of the world around him. He comments on the feeling of social invisibility a plethora of times throughout the production and describes it as if everyone around you looks right through you, even if you are speaking to them. It is enormously interesting that the invisible man finds his voice and is finally seen by the public at large, but soon after lost his presence to the public after the political group no longer desired his services because he had seemed to find his own voice and identity. A line in the production struck a different chord for me, and I am sure many other audience members felt the same. After Tod Clifton had been murdered by a police officer and there was a write-up in the paper about the altercation, the main character exclaimed that the cause for death was “resisting reality.” In my head I filled in the blank before the main character had finished the sentence and that phrase was to be resisting arrest. I found the altered phrase so fitting to what the production was trying to convey to the audience. Some of the characters were resisting reality by attempting to be seen and heard by the white community at a time where racial inequality was at its worst. I would have to say that the lighting was my favorite aspect of the production. The different tracks and the hundreds of bulbs created a masterpiece.

  7. Although it could be very easy to leave out significant parts of the massive 600 page novel, the play, “Invisible Man” covered the colossal book while maintaining all of the significant aspects and conveying the major themes. Following the life of an “invisible man” searching for his identity in an unequal world, the play brings to life the prejudices and pursuit of self that many have experienced.

    Although the clear theme of invisibility ran throughout the play, the most interesting motif for me was the speeches that occurred in the beginning and end of the play. In the beginning of the play, the protagonist was told he could deliver his moving speech to some affluent white men, but is instead forced to box. He then gives his speech while recovering from a brutal boxing round. He tries to be eloquent, but cannot be very articulate, being deterred by his bleeding and the white men’s taunting. Compared to his later speeches, such as his impromptu decrying of the elderly couple’s eviction, the Brotherhood speeches, and his eulogy for Tod Clifton, he is now more confident in himself and his identity. He uses his speeches as his identity. This, however, is somewhat false, as he learns how he is supposed to talk, not think, as he becomes disillusioned with the Brotherhood. This leaves him just as lost and in search of self as he was.

    The production itself was very impressive. The set design was striking and quite intricate. I especially enjoyed how the play weaved in different elements, like music and media to bring the novel to life. And just like a few of the previous comments, I agree that this play has encouraged me to read the book.

  8. I really enjoyed the Sunday preview of Invisible Man at Studio Theater. I thought it was a great change of theme, plot, and setting to the previous plays we have seen around town and the acting was impeccable.

    I found the combination of the small theater and the powerful voice of the performers to be sensational. Had the show been in a different theater, I don’t think I would have experienced the same intensity and overwhelming feelings. It was something about the actors walking right off of the stage and singing next to your chair that really caught my attention. During some parts of the show, like the hospital scene, the props were lengthened and taken off stage to encompass the audience and really captivate the intensity of the situation.

    Another part of the production that I found extremely moving was the variation in lights Depending on the mood and emotion of the actors, particular light fixtures were lowered from the group. This same technique was used to change the narration of the play to switch from the actor’s words to the actor’s thoughts. This provided me a clear understanding of the background information without distracting me from the story line.

    Overall, the play was extremely delightful and emphasized many themes that can be analyzed from a bigger perspective. One of those themes being—even though you think you are invisible, you still have a social responsibility to uphold. Even though the main character thought that he had no influence on the public, his voice and opinions were very powerful.

  9. Invisible Man, a powerful, intriguing, and emotional work.

    I absolutely loved the play, the characters, the stage, and the story. The story revolved around a man that was “invisible” to the rest of society. He had gone his life trying to fit in and trying to work himself up the social ladder, but in doing so failed to understand the feelings and attitudes of his people. Even though he was an educated Black man, he was never more than a token for the white people in his life. So many times was he used, that realizing it meant realizing that he had become invisible to both the community he had hope to be a part of (the white) and the community he was a part of (the black).

    The play did an amazing use of lighting and music. The stage was set up in a way that allowed light to be equally as important as the characters in the play. Music was also a big part of this play and the audience had the opportunity to feel the same feelings the characters were experiencing through the use of music.

    Overall, the play was amazing. Although almost three hours long, the play constantly keeps you engaged in the life of this man whose life experiences have greatly affected him and the people around him.

  10. The Invisible Man was a powerful and engaging show. The set was truly a work of art in and of itself. The dynamic way that the “fixtures” emphasized and accented the widely wandering narrative was a feat to be appreciated. The ensemble was equally dynamic in their ability to take on a multitude of different characters throughout the play. The three hours passed by more pleasantly than some two hour productions, and I was left with a great appreciation for the endurance and skill of the players.
    I was rather surprised to read the lackluster review of the show in the New Yorker. I do not agree that the theatrical adaptation was reduced to “either being angry or singing the blues”. Actually, I thought that the haunting stories retold by ‘the invisible man’ were an exercise in exploring the complexity of and difficult intersections between race, power, identity, behavior, community and the psychological unfolding of a person located within these nexus points. Certainly, as with all adaptations from novels, there must be a selection of material. Necessarily the entire book cannot, nor should it, be included into a dramatic production. The impactful, and moving performance I experienced led me to believe that this is a successful adaptation. However, reading the novel and reflecting further upon the play might yield a slightly different critique of the scenes or characters included, but I doubt that I would find this emotional, artful and powerful play any less so.
    This play is important not only because of it’s singular value as a production, but also because it serves as an opening for discussion of race, power and class that our country surely needs and sorely lacks. Such a discussion is deeply aided by a narrative that is complex and humanizing, when all too often it is carried on in the abstract and with faceless generalities.

  11. I found “The Invisible Man” to be very intellectually stimulating. My attention was taken by the plot, which was circuitous in a good way. I had to frequently mentally assess the changes of scene, the cast members assuming different roles, the development of the main character in the story line, etc. I thought an interesting theme in the play was the definition of each character’s identity. The obvious example to bring up is the quote, “We’re paying you to talk, not to think,” which makes a statement about the identity of the main character as a black man trying to uplift his race to achieve more, only to be suppressed his white colleagues. This scene portrays the main character’s struggles as a microcosm of the black identity. I think that instance also ties in nicely with the remarks made by Mr. Norton. When asked about his involvement with the college, he explains that he feels the black people are “somehow involved in my own destiny.” At first when I heard this line, I thought it was interesting, but after a few repetitions, all I could do was be overcome by the narcissism inherent in it. This is another small scale example. The white men treated the black people like chess pieces, manipulating them and controlling them to attain the desired outcome, often cloaked under the guise of philanthropy or altruism. I then asked myself which white man was worse, the ones from the beginning pushing the black men to fight each other blindfolded, a gross example of the lack of dignity with which they viewed the black men, or the ones like Mr. Norton and Brother Jack, who maneuver their “black-friendly” operations that are really misguided and completely insincere.

  12. The Invisible Man proficiently illustrates to the audience the difficulty of being black, being an intellectual, and, ultimately, being an outcast. This walking shadow of a protagonist is at once filled with the light of hope through education that is at odds with the grim reality of race relations in this timeframe that darkens each step of the protagonist’s way.
    The protagonist in this piece is a man of substance but is not seen fully because of his youth, his race, and his intellect. As he is seen as a headstrong young boy, he does not receive the respect a man in his position as a university student should have received as per the society at the time. Although in this vein it is seen that his somewhat boyish innocence is taken advantage of during his travels to New York in his not reading the ill-intented letters that the protagonist had been unknowingly passing to prospective employers. The protagonist is further cast out and labeled by members of his own race in the labor market and further is injured on the job as insult is added to injury. I found this particular point involving issues of race and labor especially poignant because of the context in which they were delivered: in Washington, D.C. A city known for its own history of racial woes in terms of racial insensitivities and notably slavery and emancipation as seen the upholding of things such as Dred Scot and the hope as seen in the obliteration of these things, in doing this in this context, I find, both expresses and alleviates some of the racial issues associated with this place despite the fact that the play’s setting is not D.C.

  13. On September 7, I had to go watch “The Invisible Man” by myself but I loved it! The Invisible Man touches on well-mentioning racial issues back in 1950. The scene where blinded four black men fight for entertainment was truly distressful. The invisible man goes New York to find a job but no success with the letters and later he finds out he was tricked. Even though he has the necessary skills, the invisible man cannot find the job he wants because of color of his skin. I thought the use of masks in couple of the scenes was very clever because the mask had a really strong expression.
    I felt like I was more involved in the play because the actors use the whole theater as their stage. I could feel the actors’ energy and hear the lines more clearly. It was nice to experience something different such as from the “Black Watch” or the “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo”. I’m not sure it was because I was sitting in the first row, but felt like I could feel the actor’s expressions closely and I could even see their sweats.
    Towards the end of the play, the invisible man finally finds the right job and starts making history. However he faces the black rights activists and the invisible man is accused as a traitor. I thought the scene was unfortunate because it showed the division of people and taking side. I kept thinking “Why can’t everyone get along and no one claimed as a traitor?” In conclusion, I loved the light minor humors and the hidden depth the play had.

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