Photo of Steven Cole Hughes as Bruce and Keith L. Hatten as Christopher
(Left to right) Steven Cole
Hughes as Bruce and
Keith L. Hatten as
Christopher. Photo credit:
Terry Shapiro
In the process of taking over the world militarily, politically, and economically, Caucasians have wielded many weapons, including the intellectual bludgeons of Christianity, Manifest Destiny, and Social Darwinism. But none of these is so insidious as the use of modern psychology to undermine the very souls of those they conquer.

In Blue/Orange, currently running at the Denver Center Theatre Company, playwright Joe Penyhall zeroes in on one case—that of a black patient, his young doctor, and the doctor's supervisor—to produce a heady but lean examination of the subjectivity of psychoanalysis and its interpersonal consequences.

Photo of Keith L. Hatten as Christopher
Keith L. Hatten as Christopher
Photo credit: Terry Shapiro
Christopher, a black born in Africa and raised in London, is being held in a psychiatric hospital for observation. He is scheduled to be released in 24 hours, but his doctor feels that he is too dangerous to be on the streets.

Keith Hatten's Christopher is, at first, anxious. He has been treated with Haloperidol, an anti-psychotic medication that, while reducing the extreme symptoms of schizophrenia, causes problematic physical side effects that seem to divorce users from their bodies, while driving them into constant motion.

Photo of Steven Cole Hughes as Bruce
Steven Cole Hughes as
Bruce. Photo credit:
Terry Shapiro
Underneath Christopher's furtive, frightened behavior, Hatten hints at hair-trigger explosiveness, like a boxer bobbing and weaving, looking for an opening through which to strike. Bruce, his doctor, holds Christopher at bay with the rules, explaining what he may and may not do. At first, Steven Cole Hughes plays Bruce with controlled rationality, patronizing Christopher as he would a child.

Into this prizefight over incarceration and freedom enters Bruce's supervisor, Robert, to referee. Aloof and authoritative, Robert initially ignores Christopher and chats with Bruce about social matters, but when Christopher goes ballistic over Robert's condescending behavior, the discussion turns serious.

Photo of John Hutton as Robert
John Hutton as Robert
Photo credit: Terry Shapiro
As Robert, John Hutton exudes the confidence of a man who believes he has figured things out. Robert refuses Bruce's entreaties to consider putting Christopher away. He advises Bruce to take the path of least resistance, to understand the economic consequences involved in incarcerating people who have only borderline personality disorders, and to understand that his (Bruce's) perception is clouded by ethnocentric prejudices. Hutton's subtle voice modulations and easy-going physical indications cast Robert as the voice of reason in the early going.

From here, the play takes a number of interesting turns, each returning to Robert's initial propositions concerning the relativity of normalcy and sanity. Even Robert must answer to his own warnings of cultural prejudice.

Directed by Anthony Powell, the players move seamlessly in the circular setting of the Space Theatre, changing places as well as positions of dominance, neutrality, and supplication, their muscular elocution overcoming the normal obstacles of working in the round. Powell's blocking also clarifies the complex psychological and intellectual positions put forth by the playwright, buttressing each as they are presented.

In a world where 'normal' tends to be defined by commercial conditioning rather than by spiritual well-being, Blue/Orange breaks new ground in the examination of the tyranny of modern psychology. When the poet says, "The ground is blue like an orange / Never an error the words do not lie ... " (Paul Eluard, French surrealist, 1929), we do not question his sanity. Why should we question the same statement from a black man from a housing project in London?

Yet we do. According to a British Cabinet Office Report in 2001, blacks are three times as likely to be diagnosed as having schizophrenia and more than 50 per cent less likely to receive counseling. Whether one interprets these facts as indicative of professional prejudice or cultural disorientation the results are the same: Institutional racism remains a cornerstone of imperialism. The fact that a select few escape this fate is only the exception that proves the rule.

The Denver Center Theatre Company's thoughtful production of Joe Penhall's award-winning Blue/Orange runs through November 15th. 303-893-4100.

Bob Bows


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