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Blues for an Alabama Sky
Set during the summer of 1930, the play revolves around four friends living in Harlem and a Southern gentleman who enters their lives on a wild and wooly night. We meet Angel Allen (Alfie Fuller), a 34 year-old black woman who once was the back-up singer at the Cotton Club and now is unemployed; Guy Jacobs (John-Andrew Morrison), a thirty-something black man who once worked as a clothes designer at the Cotton Club and IS now doing free-lance work; Delia Patterson (Jasminn Johnson), a 25 year-old black woman, who is a social worker on staff at the Margaret Sanger family planning clinic; Sam Thomas (Sheldon Woodley), a 40 year-old black doctor who recognizes that the real disease infecting his Harlem patients is poverty; and Leland Cunningham, a 28 year-old black man who is a newcomer to Harlem.
Although Blues is certainly a tragedy, comedy is interwoven into its dramatic fabric, especially by the openly gay, relentlessly optimistic Guy and and his lady friend Angel., Guy holds fast to his dream of going to Paris and succeeding there like his muse, Josephine Baker. As Guy repeatedly tells Angel if only they could transplant themselves to the City of Light, opportunities would come their way. Yet he knows better than most that Harlem is already in the deepening grip of the Depression.
The major drawback to the production is its clunky set (by You-Shin Chen). While the juxtaposition of Angel and Guy’s large apartment with Delia’s smaller one aligns just fine the partition between them looks like a maze of wooden planks. makin the back snd forth by the performers awkward.
Fortunately, the acting is fine. Alfie Fuller inhabits the singer Angel with the requisite passion and world-weariness. John-Andrew Morrison captures Guy's exuberant personality. Jasminn Johnson projects both the fervor and naivite of the young social worker Delia. Sheldon Woodley plays Doctor Sam Thomas with the compassion of Mother Teresa. Khiry Walker is perfect as the Southern gentleman Leland who falls in love with Angel, even though he finds the mores in Harlem at odds with his Southern religious upbringing.
With its key theme of dreams being suppressed, Blues calls to mind Langston Hughes’ poem “Harlem,” with its famous opening line, “What happens to a dream deferred?” The tableau at play’s end with Angel sitting alone and gazing out of her apartment window with authentic perplexity, not only mirrors the sentiments of Hughes’ poem, BUT gives it real flesh and blood.
If the Keen Company’s production fails to bring out all the shades and colors of Cleage’s beloved drama, LA Williams, and the cast, still deserve much credit for reviving this gem that creates a rich portrait of faith, vision, and hope.
Postscript: Don’t forget to read the program note by director LA Williams. It can help you better understand the hurried events at the play’s denouement, along with the play at large. Or , as Williams puts it: “I believe at the very core of this play, it is trying to show us . . . that we all have an ugly-side and a beautiful side. Depending on what situations we find ourselves in, we may have to lead with one or the other, or both. . . We may be running for our natural lives, but dear God, we are still running.”
You may also want to to read Elyse Sommer's review of a production in the Berkshires here.
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Blues for an Alabama Sky by Pearl Cleage
Directed by LA Williams
. Cast: Jasminn Johnson (Delia), Alfie Fuller (Angel), John-Andrew Morrision (Guy), Khiry Walker (Leland), and Sheldon Woodley (Sam).
Costumes: Asa Benally
Lighting: Oona Curley
> Sound: Lindsay Jones
Fight & Intimacy Directors: Michael Rossmy & Kelsey Rainwater
Stage Manager: Fran Rubenstein
410 West 42nd Street. Tickets: $28 and up. Phone 212-239-6200 or visit online at www.keencompany.org
> Show Times: Tuesday-Thursday @7pm, Friday @8pm, Saturday @2pm and 8pm, Sunday @3pm
From 02/04/20; opening 02/18/20; closing 03/14/20.
Running Time: 2 hours; 30 minutes with one intermission
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