Home

Trying to explain what Black Harlem's Renaissance was like is hard. The period was so rich in creative verve, you really have to show it while you tell it. It took me awhile to grasp what playwright Pearl Cleage has achieved - and director Ron OJ Parson has brought carefully to life -  in Court Theatre's Blues for an Alabama Sky.

In this beautifully polished production, we become familiar with the lives and aspirations of five denizens of the abundant cultural life enveloping New York's burgeoning black district in the 1920s and 1930s, driven by waves of aspiring new arrivals during the Great Migration from the South to the North. The period gives rise to the first jazz concert, to international musical superstars like Josephine Baker, Paul Robeson, Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller; to writers and thinkers like Marcus Garvey, Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, and Claude McKay, who wrote the first bestseller by a black author. 

Cleage has fleshed out each of her characters - a doctor, a singer, a fashion designer, a social worker, and a carpenter - who are much more than archetypes. These are real people, each contributing a seminal thread to this tale. She has also set the timeline toward the end of that golden era, in 1930 after the market crash, as the Great Depression rolled in. 

The storyline seems surprisingly fresh, but it is true to its time: the protagonists here seem a mismatched couple - a flamboyant gay fashion designer Guy (Sean Parris), and his platonic love, Angel (Toya Turner), a gangsters' moll who tries but fails to make a living as a night club singer.  

Abandonedly outré, Guy has worked his way up from stitching gowns for cross dressers, to designing clothes on spec for Josephine Baker. The pair love and support each other as they pursue their dreams, but have no future as a couple; Angel is set on finding herself a big strong man who will take care of her, and pay the rent. Guy wants to make it in Paris.

Across the hall dwells the scholarly Delia (Celeste Cooper), who is launching the first family planning clinic in Harlem. A history lesson makes its way into the plot as the clinic is burned down. Some in the black community suspected efforts at setting up such clinics - led by Margaret Sanger - were really just part of a plot to reduce the black population. Carrying the torch for Delia is Sam, a medical doctor. James Vincent Meredith's performance gives Sam a steady, even temperament - abiding patience, and someone who is tolerant and nurturant. 

Conflict arises as Leland (Geno Walker) a widowed carpenter recently arrived from Alabama, falls for Angel. His ardor cools as he discovers he is not in Alabama anymore. In this Black Harlem, homosexuals are accepted; family planning is a matter of choice.

Each of these characters engenders our sympathy. And in the course of the action they live, die, move on - or remain stuck in place. Though Cleage wrote this work in 1995, it is completely fresh. And it has been given its due in Parson's production. Costumes and set are beautifully period, and lighting brings added dimensions to the staging. Blues for an Alabama Sky now extended through February 19th at Court Theatre.

Published in Theatre in Review

Cirque du Soleil's "LUZIA" is playful, colorful and romantic

23 July 2017 in Theatre in Review

In the Chicago premiere of Cirque du Soleil’s 38th original production, LUZIA (a combination of two Spanish words, luz (light)…

Route 66 Theatre's "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Gynecologic Oncology Unit at Sloan Kettering Memorial Cancer Center of New York City" Begins August 24th

23 July 2017 in Upcoming Theatre

Route 66 Theatre Company is pleased to conclude its ninth season with the Chicago premiere of Halley Feiffer’s dark comedy …

First Floor Theater Announces 2017/18 Season

23 July 2017 in Upcoming Theatre

First Floor Theater is proud to announce their 2017/18 season, featuring one world premiere and two Chicago premieres. Their sixth…

Black Button Eyes Presents "Shockheaded Peter" - August 11 - September 16, 2017 at The Athenaeum Theatre - Chicago Storefront Premiere!

23 July 2017 in Upcoming Theatre

Black Button Eyes Productions is pleased to present the Chicago storefront premiere of SHOCKHEADED PETER, the silly and sinister musical…

Linda Fortunato Announces 2018 Season at the Theatre in the Center in Munster

23 July 2017 in Upcoming Theatre

Linda Fortunato, Artistic Director of Theatre at the Center (TATC), Northwest Indiana’s only professional theater company, has announced the mainstage…

The Femmes of Rock Leave Fans at The Arcada Theater with a show to remember

22 July 2017 in In Concert

A rainy summer night and this party was a guarantee to go on no matter what. The indoor concert venue…

Great balls of fire! Million Dollar Quartet opens Paramount Theatre's 17-18 season, Sept. 13-Oct. 29, 2017

21 July 2017 in Upcoming Theatre

Paramount Theatre is excited to tune up for its rollicking 2017-18 Broadway Series opener Million Dollar Quartet, the wildly popular…

The Tin Woman, A Moving Play About the Value of Having a Heart

20 July 2017 in Theatre in Review

Playwright Sean Grennan’s latest work is based on a true story about a successful heart transplant that occurs between two…

Jazz Guru Barry Harris Inspires at the Jazz Institute of Chicago

20 July 2017 in BCS Spotlight

Barry Harris is not exactly a household name unless you are a Jazz musician. He is a gifted piano player…

First Folio's "As You Like It" is outdoor theatre at its best

18 July 2017 in Theatre in Review

Gentle breezes, crickets chirping (or whatever that sound is they make), and comfortably warm summer nights. We're here. And knowing…

Kokandy Productions' LITTLE FISH - Through August 20, 2017 at Theater Wit - Chicago Premiere!

13 July 2017 in Upcoming Theatre

Kokandy Productions is pleased to present the Chicago premiere of Michael John LaChiusa's LITTLE FISH, directed by Producing Artistic Director …

Cirque du Soleil presents new CRYSTAL, breakthrough ice experience, Nov. 16-19

13 July 2017 in Upcoming Theatre

Cirque du Soleil is thrilled to venture into uncharted territory with its brand new creation, Cirque du Soleil Crystal, exploring…

 

 

10 Years! Fave Issue Covers

Register

Latest Articles

Guests Online

We have 92 guests and no members online

Buzz Chicago on Facebook Buzz Chicago on Twitter