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Hallelujah Street Blues

CATEGORY :
by Valetta Anderson

COMPANY : Horizon Theatre Company [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Horizon Theatre Company [WEBSITE]
ID# 3117

SHOWING : July 11, 2008 - August 24, 2008

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

The Yuppies are Coming! The last working class house in a gentrified neighborhood takes a stand against the developers who want to bulldoze Daddy's Apple trees. This is the backdrop for a Family Drama that tests all the ties that bind.


CAST & CREW LIST
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REVIEWS

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Living and Loving in the Shadows of the Gentry
by Dedalus
Tuesday, August 5, 2008
3.5
Valetta Anderson’s “Hallelujah St. Blues” is a bit of a frustration. On the one hand, it is a very well-written, well-plotted script – one of those plays where you can’t wait for intermission to be over so you can see what happens next. It is centered by a few incredibly strong performances, and is mounted on a clever and evocative set. On the other hand, there are some performances that aren’t quite up to the others, some blocking choices that show an inconsistency of concept, and a lighting scheme that leaves us in the dark as to time of day (night scenes with bright lights, day scenes with darkness and shadow).

In the final analysis, while I admittedly liked the script more than the production, the play left me with a good feeling, a slice-of-family-life with a collection of people whose company I enjoyed and whose fates I cared about. It is a production I can recommend without too many reservations.

At the start, we’re introduced to the Wilson family. Matriarch Josephine is a proud and stubborn force of nature, living in an island of working-class friends surrounded by gentrified apartment and condominium complexes. The developers want her home, but she won’t give an inch. Her grown son Nathan has moved in to take care of her – she suffers from debilitating diabetes and refuses to adjust her lifestyle accordingly. Daughter Clarice and Grandson Tres are spending the summer, bringing into the mix a volatile backdrop of affection, irritability, and hidden (almost) conflict.

When Clarice’s estranged husband Carter arrives with his high-brow mannerisms and low-brow lawyer’s tricks, the plot takes off with its parallel threads of family and neighborhood dynamics. Will the greedy developers get their grubby fingers on the Wilson property, plowing under the crabapple trees planted so lovingly decades earlier? Will the trees become as symbolically important as Chekov’s Cherry Orchard, or will they go into shock at their literary and literal uprooting? Will childhood friend William be successful in his pursuit of Clarice, now that Carter is in the doghouse (so to speak)? Speaking of dogs, is neighbor Dorothy’s pet “Shadow” real or only a figment of her addled memory? Will Josephine remember to check her blood sugar and keep her hands off those honey buns? Will Tres become the Valiant Warrior all Wilson men are destined to become?

It speaks well of this script and cast that I really cared about these (and several other) questions. Most of the credit for making these people come so compelling alive must be laid at the performances of leading ladies Veronica Redd (Josephine) and Keena Redding Hunt (Clarice). They dominate the proceedings, stubborn women who are too often at odds, but who share too many years of love and experience to let their aggravations tear them apart. In many ways, these women are a lifeline to each other – their bickering is what keeps them going, gives them strength. In a (rare) quiet moment, Josephine tells Clarice that “We Wilson women tend to marry [men like] our fathers, then we live happily ever after. To our regret…” (or words to that effect). I found the line perfectly encapsulates the ambivalencies these women have found in their marriages, and these performances helped me share those ambivalences.

Of the men, Gordon Danniels’ William and Trey Best’s Tres come off the best. Mr. Danniels is a charming doof, who made me believe he had a crush on Clarice for all these years, and is enjoying the realization of his dream, short-lived though it may become. And Young Mr. Best’s performance is never irritating in that too-talented child actor way we old farts have come to cynically dismiss – he gives a real performance and shows us a real character who we believe knows and loves all these people in different ways.

I did find Taurean Blacque’s Nathan a bit of a puzzle. His diction is often slurred and unreadable, his reading sometimes too reciter-rhythm contrived. But his interactions are spot-on – he more than makes up with subtext and eye-expression what he almost loses in speech mis-steps. Eric Ware’s Carter is funny, but a bit too effete – his pickiness with wiping off every chair and surface shows a nice fussiness which amuses, but he sometimes falls into limp-wristed mannerisms that made me question (and not quite believe) his physical attraction to and final reconciliation with Clarice. And Deborah Calloway Duke’s Dorothy is a bit of a trial – she maintains one-note characterization, having fun with the madness and eccentricity, but never making me believe it was more than actressy schtick.

I did like how the look of the set, and how it crept into the audience at places, but was a bit perplexed by some inconsistencies. For example, sometimes we see the apple trees behind the set, sometimes they’re in the House Left aisle, sometimes in the House Right aisle. Having them moved as part of the plot only adds to the confusion. The set is beautiful, perfectly evoking the back patio of a low-income neighborhood, turning transparent to occasionally show us characters in and behind (or, more accurately, in front of) the house. But using the same house aisles as both apple tree locales and entrances showed that the physicality of the scene was never thought through, or, at least, never clarified for me. And, for the record, where did the entrances to the back yard come from?

Adding to the confusion of time and place was the inconsistent lighting. As I mentioned above, there were night scenes fully lit with white and gold color, and day scenes in which the shadowed characters were barely visible (probably to facilitate the scrim effect, but distracting nonetheless).

So, to summarize, while I have some quibbles about “Hallelujah St. Blues,” its story, its dialog, its characters, and the performances in the two central female roles, made me enjoy it. I found it funny, moving, frustrating, and very, very likeable.

It’s a slice-of-family life reminding us that those we love the most will also hurt and please us the most (the ties that bind-and-gag syndrome). And no neighborhood gentrification will ever overshadow that.

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)







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