Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Blues for An Alabama Sky"

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note: entire contents copyright 2002 by Larry Stark

"Blues for An Alabama Sky"

by Pearl Cleage
Directed by Jeffrey Robinson

Set Design by Susan Davis
Sound Design by Andy Aldous
Lighting Design by Mark VanDerzee
AssistantStage Manager Shauday Johnson-Jones
Stage Manager Nerys Powell

Angel Allen..............Jacqui Parker
Guy Jacobs.....Dorian Christian-Baucum
Delia Patterson...Stephanie Marson-Lee
Sam Thomas...............Michael Green
Leland Cunningham.....Ricardo Engerman

It's impossible to tell whether "Blues for An Alabama Sky" will please its audience, since that audience didn't brave the first serious snowfall of the season last Thursday. I counted seven faces in the seats, and the only two Black faces were those of an usher and (I suspect) the director. But the Our Place Theater Project is Boston's newest, badest Black company, and Pearl Cleage's script is a teaching-play set in the Harlem of 1930 when people can go to "Langston's comin' home party"; when a gay designer can dream of doing costumes for Josephine in Paris; when no Sunday can be called complete without Reverend Powell's sermons at the New Abyssinian; when bathtub gin holds the only solace for the no-job Deep Depression blues; and when Satchmo's "race-records" were the rage and The Duke ruled The Cotton Club.

The company's (and Boston's!) treasure Jacqui Parker plays Angel, a sometime hooker turned saloon singer who is dangerously between jobs and between affairs and insecure about both. And Dorian Christian-Baucum is Guy, living for his delusions of Follies Bergeres fame and letting Angel once more share his apartment.

Next door Is Stephanie Marson-Lee's Delia, a 30-year-old virgin social-worker trying to start a birth-control (sorry "Family Planning"!) Center that can cure Harlem of its unwanted, sickly children. Angel treats her like a younger sister, but Doctor Sam notices she's ready to be a woman. Michael Green's doctor has been fifteen years in Harlem Hospital, but he works too hard and plays too hard ever to get enough rest.

Guy and Delia are two kinds of dreamers --- one focused in on himself, the other out toward society; and Angel and Sam are likewise pragmatists, one willing in an uppity way to take what the world throws her way, the other carefully accepting of each individual's unique view of how that world works.

Into this unemployment-stricken afterglow of The Harlem Rennaisence steps Ricardo Engerman's Leland, a born-again Alabama carpenter new in New York and mistrustful of city morals, who sees in Angel's face that of his young wife dead in child-birth and offering marriage and love and a rigid style of life better suited to smaller towns and less emancipated minds.

Susan Davis has put two apartments and a brownstone entry-hall into the BCA Theatre, and Mark VanDerzee's lights throw the hot Harlem summer sunlight in a window through which, drink in hand, Angel watches a world bringing her new, unsettling surprises.

One of the true strengths of this story of a quintet of misfits is that the White world never gets a look-in, except for a pair of opportunistic club-owners that are off-stage annoyances. These fully-rounded Black characters do for, and do to one another in their own ways and in their own world, and live with the surprising consequences.

Director Jeffrey Robinson has kept all elements of the play direct and clear, while either he or Sound Designer Andy Aldous has supplied a bushel-full of vintage jass-recordings bridging every blackout between scenes or between acts with the hot sounds of freedom and boysterous improvisation.

Just add a sea of appreciative Black faces and "Let The Good Times Roll!"


"Blues for An Alabama Sky" (4 - 21 December)
Boston Center for The Arts, 539 Tremont Street, BOSTON MA

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide