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Blues for an Alabama Sky
a Comedy/Drama
by Pearl Cleage

COMPANY : True Colors Theatre Company
VENUE : Southwest Arts Center [WEBSITE]
ID# 3387

SHOWING : May 06, 2009 - May 31, 2009



It’s 1930 Harlem, and torch singer Angel Allen's auditions and dreams are fading as quickly as the bright lights and creative euphoria of the Harlem Renaissance, giving way to the harsh realities of the Great Depression. Tired of “Negro Dreams”, she thinks safety lies on the broad back of the new stranger in town. But people are starting to get mean and the Harlem night is no place for a southern boy with romantic notions of “Alabama skies where the stars are so thick it’s bright as day”. The tragic landscape of poverty and the redeeming quality of hope are illuminated in this beautiful comic drama from New York Times bestselling author Pearl Cleage.

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Beautifully True Blues
by uppermiddlebrow
Sunday, May 10, 2009
If you’ve been wondering whether or when to make the trek to True Colors’s new digs at Southwest Arts Center off Cascade Road, Blues for an Alabama Sky is the one for you. Incidentally, the trip takes under 30 minutes from midtown, mostly on freeway, so it’s hardly an ordeal even for a confirmed ITP-er like me. Blues playwright Pearl Cleage lives in Southwest Atlanta, making the new venue especially appropriate.

The play was commissioned and premiered by Kenny Leon when he led the Alliance. I saw it then, and still greatly enjoyed this new production. At one level it’s a compelling Prohibition-era story of a Harlem nightclub singer and her friends: a flamboyant dress designer, the community’s only black Ob-Gyn, a young woman who is starting family planning clinics, and a country boy just up from Alabama who is smitten with the singer. They are sympathetic characters and their relationships develop in a fast-paced, engaging plot. At another level, it’s a work that bravely explores a clash of moral values – in this case within the black community – over sexual behavior, homosexuality, abortion and birth control – debates that are not over yet. More universally, the play contrasts the easy tolerance of sophisticated big-city types and the narrowness of the less educated family-values folks, without entirely stacking the deck.

This strong material is well served by a pleasing set that permits rapid scene transitions and, above all, by talented cast and direction. Jasmine Guy as the flirtatious singer is a damaged woman, used by Italian nightclub owners and using everyone else around her in turn. Ms Guy resists the temptation to turn on the charm and blind us to her character’s unappealing side. In the single scene where she sings, her unaccompanied blues voice is perhaps underwhelming, but no matter. Eric Ware, whose credits include the Shakespeare Tavern and Alabama Shakespeare, is superb as her loyal friend, the outrageously gay dress designer. He delivers most of the play’s laugh lines and his arch put-downs are perfectly timed, yet he’s also convincingly tough and self-protective when forced to confront prejudice. From the warm reception Mr Ware’s character received, Bishop Eddie Long’s homophobic influence in these parts may be over-rated. Mr Ware’s warm boom of a voice seemed to tire towards the end of the play and the acoustics made it hard to hear every word in the back of the auditorium. Joel Ishman as the tired doctor and Cynthia Barker as the earnest young family-planning advocate are very likeable. Benjamin Brown has the right presence for the handsome, god-fearing country boy. They are an ideal cast and the fast rhythm of the drama never flags in their hands.

Kenny Leon is packing the new house off Cascade Road. In his curtain speech he talked about the new location and encouraged the audience to go into town to support other theater, but also to take advantage of no longer having to go downtown for theater, a sentiment that brought applause. It would be good if more white audience members found their way to True Colors shows. Mr Leon’s motto for playgoers is “Laugh, Think and Cry,” and his productions are very effective in achieving those responses, perhaps none more so than this Blues for an Alabama Sky.



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