Monday, May 11, 2009

Blues for an Alabama Sky takes skeptical look at Harlem Renaissance

Posted By on Mon, May 11, 2009 at 4:34 PM

click to enlarge HEAVEN SENT: Jasmine Guy as Angel in Blues for an Alabama Sky
  • HEAVEN SENT: Jasmine Guy as Angel in Blues for an Alabama Sky

The Harlem Renaissance, like the era of the founding fathers, looms so large in America's cultural history that any criticism of it can sound almost sacrilegious. True Colors Theatre Company's Blues for an Alabama Sky, written by Pearl Cleage, earns credibility for its skeptical depiction of artists and social activists in 1930s Harlem. The play drops famous names like Langston Hughes, but doesn't gloss over the decades' problems, which included pitched political arguments, gay-bashing and crushing unemployment.

The irony of Cleage's play is it depicts one of the most artistically robust times and places in African-American history, yet the two main characters plan on leaving it. Gay costume designer Guy (Eric Ware, fabulous in all senses of the word) can't wait to abandon New York for the refinement of Paris. He waits — possibly in vain — for legendary dancer Josephine Baker to send for him. Guy promises to care for Angel (Jasmine Guy), a reckless nightclub singer left homeless when her gangster boyfriend ditches her. "He didn't dump me, he got married," Angel explains. Jasmine Guy proves to be a magnetic performer and looks great in Shilla Benning's costumes. But she tends to overplay Angel, relying on eye-rolling punctuation for the character's jokes or emotional beats.

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(Photo by Horace Henry)

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