Emily White ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Editor
Ralph Waldo Ellison’s novel Invisible Man has been an important and well-known part of American literature for years. The Huntington Theatre Company rises to the difficult task of interpreting Ellison’s novel for the stage and succeeds in making it contemporary, beautiful, and utterly jaw-dropping.
Oren Jacoby’s stage adaptation of Ellision’s original text takes essential and poignant parts of the text and turns them into a brilliant script. The actors interpret it in exciting, hard-hitting, and unexpected ways, and hold the audience’s rapt attention for three long acts that never drag. The entire ensemble is cohesive and extremely talented, creating a world around Teagle F. Bougere, who plays the title character, whose name and identity is in question throughout the play. The multiple casting of all the actors besides Bougere allow the audience to see the world through the protagonists’ eyes, interpreting the first-person narration of the novel in a theatrical way. The casting is very specific, allowing the audience to question predetermined archetypes and assumptions they make about people they see based on those they meet in their youth. When Bougere’s protagonist is asked why he treats everything in terms of race, he responds “is there any other way?” and the audience is forced to re-examine the specificity of every actor’s role.
The actors help create the protagonist’s world, but they would not be able to do so without Troy Hourie’s incredible set design. Hourie was forced to combat the challenge of a set that needed to become a Southern small town, the streets and apartments of Harlem, a paint factory, and even a disturbing surgery room, among other places. To combat the incredible amount of locations Hourie employed the ingenious use of videos and photos of cast members and actual locations, as well as a striking and beautiful moving ceiling of various light fixtures. Although the props are very specific, the set is so cohesive that the audience never questions why there is an apartment bed in the middle of a street fight. One might say it is because we only see what we want to – in a sense the bed is invisible to us, just as Ellison’s Invisible Man feels in relation to society.