BWW Review: Pearl Cleage's Ravishingly Written Post-Harlem Renaissance Portrait BLUES FOR AN ALABAMA SKY
"I'm tired of Negro dreams. All they ever do is break your heart," contemplates an unemployed nightclub singer after an audition that turned out to be for a mistress rather than for an entertainer in Pearl Cleage's ravishingly written post-Harlem Renaissance portrait, Blues for an Alabama Sky.
Set in the summer of 1930, less than a year after the crash the prompted the Great Depression and more than two decades before the publication of Langston Hughes' "Montage of a Dream Deferred", this lovingly sentimental drama indeed breaks your heart as the major players frequently talk about the dreams they're pursuing.
They're even on a first name basis with that emerging Harlem literary voice, casually chatting about a party being thrown to celebrate his return from Paris. Everyday conversation also includes praise for the latest sermons by that young and charismatic Reverend Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. over at Abyssinian Baptist Church and the news of the family planning clinic Margaret Sanger wants to put up on 126th Street.
The finely-acted production directed by LA Williams for Keene Company is the long-overdue New York premiere for the 25-year-old play, first seen in her home city, Atlanta.
At the outset, blues singer Angel (Alfie Fuller) has been fired from her steady nightclub gig for "cussing out a short-tempered gangster in the middle of an up-tempo production number."
As the short-tempered gangster was also her sugar daddy, who showed up in the audience with his new wife, Angel would be homeless if not for the generosity of her clothing designer friend Guy (John-Andrew Morrison), who welcomes her to share his apartment.
A self-described "notorious homosexual," Guy's dream is to design costumes for Josephine Baker, the former local chorus dancer who's now the toast of Paris. His across the hall neighbor, the kind and devout Delia (Jasminn Johnson), has been urging support for the new clinic, a plan that's appreciated by her new romantic interest, Sam (Sheldon Woodley), a Harlem Hospital doctor who has been secretly accommodating women with safe abortions.
Angel's search for a new financially stable man to support her leads to a relationship with Alabama transplant Leland (Khiry Walker), a conservatively-living man haunted by the childbirth death of his wife. Angel plays the necessary role to snare his interest, but will her new beau be able to accept the ways of life of her friends?
The handsome visuals contributed by designers You-Shin Chen (set), Asa Benally (costumes) and Oona Curley (lights), matched with sound designer Lindsay Jones' original blues score, provide a warm period atmosphere for the strong ensemble, but the star of the evening is the elegant voice of playwright Cleage, whose work has only been seen sporadically in New York since the 1980s.