Theater Review/The Code

By Emily Weekley 

The Red Barn Theater’s newest show this season, The Code, let’s viewers into a pensive experience with its characters in order to contemplate society, change, and the price of being true to oneself. In the theater, the audience is taken back in time to 1950s Hollywood, where the glamorous were coming face-to-face with the tensions of blacklisting. 

Written by Michael McKeever and directed by Christopher Renshaw, The Code references the Hays Code that set moral guidelines on the film industry from 1938 until the late 1960s. The play itself takes place over one intimate evening in 1950 at a cocktail party in the fashionable home of Billy Haines, played by Tom Wahl. The events of the evening serve as a microcosm of the ripple effects of a government’s interference with identity. Tallulah Bankhead is brought to life in all her outspoken glory by Mary Falconer, as she and Haines illustrate the importance of honest, true friendship as they await the arrival of another guest. 

Haines is attempting to live a life true to his sexual identity in a time that, as Bankhead tells the audience, wasn’t kind to homosexuality. Henry Wilson, played by David Black, is a foil to Haines, representing the acceptance of a stifling and sometimes violent and abusive culture. Wilson is intense and stiff, and Black inhabits the role in such a way as to make the audience appalled by a way of life common to the era and despicable to confront. Haines is, on the other hand, inspiring and steadfast, and Wahl balances the authority, modesty, and sensitivity of the character well. This all unfolds as the impressionable young Chad Manford, played by Carlos Ortega Amorin, observes the two paths from which he can choose to follow, represented by Wilson and Haines. Manford is confused, impressionable, and thinks he is on the cusp of realizing an impossible dream.

The stage evokes immediate nostalgia for the period, its black-and-white checkered floors, black walls, white lamps and frames, glass bar cart, and white, fur-covered settee. This color palette is cut only by the striking red of roses and the dress worn by Bankhead and designed by Gary R. Marion. As the rest of the cast dons black, white, and grey, the set becomes a metaphor for the false dichotomy that the enforcement of the moral codes of the era was. 

As a viewer, the venue and all of the elements of the play come together to make you feel as if you are really at this intimate gathering, which can at once be uncomfortable and delightful. While moments of the plot are disheartening, the show’s message is unavoidably hopeful: people like Haines were living a life that would one day, perhaps the day you will walk into when you exit the theater after the play, become a story that may inspire real, permanent change. 

The Code runs March 7th – 25th at the Red Barn Theater at 319 Duval Street (in back). You can get your tickets at or by calling the box office, open from 3:00–5:00p.m. on weekdays, at 305-296-9911.

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