BWW Review: Searing BLUES FOR MISTER CHARLIE from The Williams Project

BWW Review: Searing BLUES FOR MISTER CHARLIE from The Williams Project

Dear Readers, I have some really great news for you. The Williams Project, the incredible company that gave us the scintillating "Orpheus Descending" last year, is back in Seattle and their latest offering, "Blues for Mister Charlie" by James Baldwin just provides further proof that this is a top notch company of theater professionals at the top of their game.

This seldom produced 1964 play centers on a small southern town where a young black musician, Richard Henry (Ryan Williams French) has come home from a time in New York. He's gotten a taste of life among more progressive northerners so when thrust back into the oppressive southern lifestyle he pushes back. Unfortunately he pushes poor bigoted white shopkeeper Lyle Britten (Charlie Thurston) a bit too much resulting in Richard's death. What follows is a searing look at the racial inequities between the black and white residents of the town told through flashbacks and the court case surrounding the shooting.

I'd like to say this play, which was written in response to the deaths of Emmett Till and Medgar Evers, is a period piece far removed from the attitudes of today but we all know that's not true making this show all the more poignant and relevant. Add into that the Williams Project's staging of it in four churches in the area plus the dedication of this supremely talented group and what you have is a powerful piece that will stay with you for quite some time. Director Ryan Guzzo Purcell has deliberately kept the set quite minimal and the staging utilizing all areas of the church especially the aisle making the show all the more intimate and immersive.

And then there's this stellar ensemble filled with incredible performances. Thurston never once portrays the "villain" of the piece but simply and honestly as a man with certain points of view. French is equally strong with tons of conviction portraying a black man not willing to put up with outdated attitudes. Jude Sandy delivers some stunning moments both as the victim's father Rev. Henry as well as saloon owner Papa D. Rebecca Gibel is superb as a woman in denial coming to grips with who her husband is and what he's done. Max Rosenak brings in conflicted power as the best friend of the accused who just wants justice for the victim. And Lateefah Holder pulls in some wonderful moments both as Richard's friend and as his no nonsense Grandmother. But it was Nancy Moricette who truly blew me away with her highly emotional and powerful portrayal of Richard's girlfriend.

So there's all that plus some rocking musical interludes and underscoring from Phillip and Phoenix Roebuck and what we have is another win from The Williams Project. And so with my three letter rating system I give "Blues for Mister Charlie" a quite impressed and emotionally affected YAY. It's quite exciting to see another group of solid artists offering up stirring theater in town and I, for one, cannot wait to see what they do with their upcoming production of "The Glass Menagerie" and beyond.

"Blues for Mister Charlie" has three more performances in various churches around town on August 3rd, 4th and 5th. For information visit them online at

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From This Author Jay Irwin

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