"Paradise Blue" at True Colors Theatre Company, September 24, 2019 - October 20, 2019
Since the site is not allowing the posting of reviews in its normal place, the backlog of my reviews will be going to the forum
Title: Paradise Lost Cost
"Paradise Blue" takes place in a Detroit jazz club. In the True Colors production, the detailed set by Moriah and Isabel Curley-Clay shows us this club, blue brick below with variegated tan brick above separating the club from the rented room above it. The club itself has a nice wooden bar center, with an outside door next to it and a low stage with piano and drum set stage left. Three small round tables with chairs fill the downstage area. The rented room above shows a bed, dresser, and vanity. Signs and blown-up family photos fill up the space on either side of the rented room. It’s an attractive set, with some lovely stained glass light fixtures.
L. Nyrobi N. Moss’s costumes have a bit of a zoot suit flair when male characters are in the money. The characters’ wardrobes help to establish their positions in society and enhance the overall production. Mary Parker’s lighting illuminates the action nicely, highlighting some special moments. Chris Lane’s sound design has a wonderful stereo feel, using nice effects to represent the inner demons of the bar owner, Blue (Javon Johnson). Blue’s trumpet playing is performed to Mr. Johnson’s excellent miming by Russell Gunn, who composed original music for the show. Mr. Gunn plays as himself before the recorded curtain speech, but his trumpet was flat at the start of the performance I attended, before he made a minor adjustment midway through his solo.
The show itself starts and ends with a gunshot, so we know from the outset that strong emotions will come into play. The first act is generally comic, though, introducing us to a nicely delineated set of characters. There’s controlling Blue, his understanding piano player Corn (Keith Arthur Bolden), and disenchanted percussionist P-Sam (Enoch Armando King) on the male side. The distaff side is represented by sweet homebody Pumpkin (Cynthia D. Barker), who memorizes poems by Harlem Renaissance poet Georgia Douglas Johnson, and femme fatale Silver (Tangela Large). The second act becomes more serious, as Blue considers selling the bar to municipal authorities without informing anyone residing or working there. It ends badly for him, and with no resolution for the other characters or for the fate of the bar, although the director’s note in the program indicates that the interstate highway system demolished "blighted" (read: "black") sections of Detroit and Atlanta.
Jamil Jude’s direction is excellent, bringing to the fore Mr. Bolden’s physical comedy and Mr. King’s excellent line delivery. The contrast between Ms. Barker and Ms. Large is stunning, with each bringing a distinct personality to life. Mr. Johnson performs well, although he is let down a bit by the script in his fairly sudden descent into manic brutality. Fight direction, by Connor Hammond and Amelia Fischer, is also a bit of a letdown in the production. The play seems to lose direction as it wends its way toward an abrupt end.
Mr. Jude, the cast, and the technical production team have done excellent work in "Paradise Blue." Dominique Morisseau’s script sets up the situation and the characters beautifully, but doesn’t wrap things up in a satisfying manner. Consequently, True Colors’ production is more one to admire in the abstract than to appreciate viscerally.