Sunday, November 06, 2011

Blues For An Alabama Sky: Robin Givens As Jazz Singer

"Blues For An Alabama Sky"...How do you interpret the title? That should have been my first question in my interview with play director, Sheldon Epps, and cast. Honestly, it was the first one to come to mind, but time ran out to ask.  Now having seen the play written by prolific author, Pearle Cleage, I've developed a few meanings of my own.

Starring a stellar ensemble cast, "Blues For An Alabama Sky," tells a timeless yet timely story of Harlem club singer, Angel (Robin Givens), and her friends, costume designer, Guy (Kevin T. Caroll);  Sam (Kadeem Hardison), a doctor; and Delia (Tessa Thompson), a social worker as they struggle to hold on to their dreams in desperate times.

Set in the 1930s, the Great Depression has drained the exuberance from the Harlem Renaissance and now harsh realities have set in. Angel, an out of work club singer,  escapes homelessness by moving in with Guy as he pins his hopes on moving to France to design costumes for Josephine Baker. Across the hall, the determined Delia plots to build a family planning clinic in Harlem despite community opposition. Meanwhile "Harlem Healer" Sam delivers little bundles of joy and rids women of unwanted ones too. He works hard and parties harder.

When southern gentleman, Leland (Robert Manning, Jr.) comes a-calling for Angel's affection, his "Sweet Home Alabama" ways make him ripe for the plucking in Angel's grand scheme of survival. Nevermind her questionable relationship with Guy, the man who provides for her. But what seemed like an ideal situation has severe consequences, erasing the already thin line between love and hate, heaven and hell.

Multi-layered and mood swinging, "Blues For An Alabama Sky," is not as musical as the title may lead you to think, though we do get to hear Robin Givens sing a little. The play instead is mix of political, feminist, religious, and societal themes that evoke opinion and judgment even in 2011. The music of the era is merely a part of the scenic backdrop. So like a good movie the play raises questions, but doesn't answer them for the audience.

Givens and Carroll deliver engaging performances as we witness them define their unique love story. Although complete opposites in their outlook, they share a passion to live freely as they so choose. That passion along with their onstage chemistry is palpable.

Though the play centers around Angel and Guy, the comparisons between the demure Delia and daring Angel are evident. Thanks to Thompson's performance, Delia becomes more interesting as the story evolves, but the importance of her role is overshadowed by that of Angel. Possibly, a black woman in the 1930s asserting her right to birth control and right to choose in an era fearing racial genocide and new feminist attitudes deserves a play of it's own.

Now back to the the title, "Blues For An Alabama Sky." May be it represents the hope that comes with a sunny day and the emotion that springs from the musical blues. Basking in the after glow of the Harlem Renaissance, these characters  seemed to have lived each day like it was "sunny" until the Great Depression brought them the blues. Or could it be that Angel brought the blues to Leland who she nicknamed Alabama? Whatever the interpretation, I suggest seeing the play for yourself and commenting here on it.

"Blues For An Alabama Sky" plays at the Pasadena Playhouse from now until November 27th. If you enjoy good theater,  great acting, support it.


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