Set in 1930s Harlem, Pearl Cleage’s poetic Blues for an Alabama Sky tells a thoroughly engrossing and timeless story. The opening Sunday, November 6, 2011 at the Pasadena Playhouse was a triumph for director Sheldon Epps and his flawless ensemble cast. This is the best drama produced by the Playhouse since Fences.
Struck hard by the Depression the lives of five compelling and fascinating characters intersect at a tenement house. John Iacovelli’s inventive revolving set complete with creaks mirroring the decrepitude of the New York apartment building was marvelous.
Robin Givens’ performance as struggling singer Angel Allen was a revelation. Having lost her job and her gangster lover in one fateful night, she drowns her sorrows in booze and barely able to stand, let alone walk, is escorted by her gay cousin, Guy Jacobs, to his flat with the help of a stranger.
Kevin T. Carroll conveys Guy’s dreams of designing costumes for Josephine Baker in Paris and his devotion to Angel with an irresistible sincerity. Socially-minded neighbor Delia Patterson (appealingly portrayed by Tessa Thompson) is equally optimistic pursuing her mission to open a family planning clinic. Encouraging everyone to “let the good times roll,” Dr. Sam Thomas (Kadeem Hardison—surpassing even his fine work in Fences) provides an unlikely, but lovable assistant to her cause.
Drawn to Angel because of her resemblance to his deceased wife, the stranger, fundamentalist Alabama boy Leland Cunningham falls for Angel, or at least the woman he imagines her to be. Robert Ray Manning, Jr. convincingly portrays Leland’s longing and loneliness juxtaposed with his narrow-mindedness.
Karen Perry’s costumes brilliantly define the characters. Jared Sayeg’s lighting design effectively conveys mood and heightens action. As sound designer Marc Anthony Thompson peppers the show with a perfect selection of blues and jazz music.
Reflecting life Blues for an Alabama Sky includes belly laughs as well as tender moments. Completely satisfying, this production lingers with the audience long after the final curtain. Lovers of great plays should act quickly to reserve tickets. Missing this gem would be a real loss.
Blues for an Alabama Sky performs 8 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 4 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday through November 27. Tickets range from $29-$59, premium seating $100. Rush tickets are available for $20 one hour prior to the performance time and are subject to availability. Rush tickets must be purchased at The Pasadena Playhouse Box Office. Visit the box office, call 626-921-1166 or visit www.PasadenaPlayhouse.org. Group sales (8 or more) are available.
The Pasadena Playhouse is located at 39 South El Molino Avenue, Pasadena, CA91101.
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