“A House with No Walls” intertwines the stories of two black Philadelphia women between the past and the present. Caught in eras with similarly difficult issues, both women struggle to embrace their race while also remaining true to themselves. Ona Judge (Lavita Shaurice) lived as a slave on George Washington’s plantation in 1796.
Judge toils the fields alongside her brother, Austin (Bowman Wright) while dreaming of living a life with the opportunities of a free woman. A white abolitionist named Tobias Humphreys (Seth Reichgott) offers to help her escape, but the catch that she must leave her family to seek this new life Cadence Lane (Tracey Conyer Lee) is a modern day historian working on the planning committee of a liberty museum slated to be built on the site of George Washington’s former house in Philadelphia.
Lane faces opposition from civil rights activist Salif Camara (Johnnie Hobbs Jr.) who feels a liberty museum on the ground where slaves once lived is hypocritical.
Lane does not share that same feeling, and begins feeling threatened because of her differing opinion and her identification with the Republican party. Lane struggles with being true to herself and, at the same time, keeping her identity as a black woman. Camara is aided by another historian, Allen Rosen (also played by Reichgott), who is incidentally a love interest of Lane’s. Strong performances by the entire cast propel this story forward with feeling and passion.
Temple theater alumna Shaurice shines as Judge. Lee keeps us in the present with Lane’s predicament. Several actors, including Reichgott, play more than one character, managing to balance multiple personalities within the course of a two-hour show.
Playwright Thomas Gibbons combines fact and fiction flawlessly. The Judges were real slaves who lived on George Washington’s plantation in the 1790s and Tobias Humphreys was an abolitionist who helped slaves escape from Washington’s plantation.
While the present day characters are fictional, the fight over the liberty museum resembles the controversy surrounding the Liberty Bell Center that occurred in 2002, when some questioned the Center’s location at George Washington’s first home, where the first presisdent owned slaves – proof that the past is always an element of the present.
Ann Acri can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.