Blues for an Alabama Sky By Pearl Cleage
At Barrington Stage Company
By: Charles Giuliano - Aug 06, 2023
Blues for an Alabama Sky
By Pearl Cleage
Directed by Candis C. Jones
Features Brandon Alvión as Guy Jacobs, Tsilala Brock as Angel Allen, Deleon Dallas as Leland Cunningham, Ryan George as Sam Thomas, and Jasmin Johnson as Delia Patterson.
Scenic design by Sydney Lynne, costume design by Danielle Preston, lighting design by Adam Honoré, sound design by Fabian Obispo, and wig design by Earon Nealey.
Barrington Stage Company
Through August 5
Blues for an Alabama Sky by Pearl Cleage was written in 1995 and is set during the Harlem Renaissance and Prohibition. It is staged in a brownstone, awkwardly designed by Sydney Lynne. It features two disproportioned apartments side-by-side. The actors have difficulty negotiating the labyrinthine space particularly when the action transpires on the street in front of the tenement apartments.
That is immediately apparent during the boisterous, noisy, chaotic opening scene. The dead drunk cabaret singer Angel Allen (Tsilala Brock) is being dragged home by the gay costume designer Guy Jacobs (Brandon Alvion). A stranger, the large, handsome Leland Cunningham (DeLeon Dallas) lends a helping hand to navigate her to Guy’s apartment. There she collapses in a drunken heap on a sofa.
Given the volume and speed with which Candis C. Jones has directed the opening scene it is difficult to follow the dialogue and understand the plot development. The characters have come north and have accents that blur rather than identify their origins. The costume design by Danielle Preston gives Guy over the top panache. The streets of Harlem are tough but we admire his conviction to be who and what he is.
Angel has told off her mafia boss and lover from the stage. That got her fired and he for defending her. Now broke she has been evicted with the clothes on her back, a nightclub gown, and a few essentials that Guy has managed to rescue. She moves in with him while getting back on her feet.
Life goes on but Angel has few prospects as talent is a dime a dozen in Harlem. Guy, however, has a special gift as a designer. He dreams of Paris and creates costumes for Josephine Baker who, with her banana dance, has become a sensation. Angel is to come with him to the City of Lights which is a refuge from racism and appreciates talent.
While Guy and Angel are all about show business their charming neighbor, Delia (Jasmin Paterson), is a 25-year-old social worker with the ambition to establish a clinic for planned parenthood. So far she doesn’t practice what she preaches. She is wooed by a doctor, Sam Thomas (Ryan George). He joyously delivers babies and occasionally helps women in trouble.
When all the characters are introduced the performances slow down and settle in. Perhaps too much so as exposition slows the pace. Every plot development calls for another bottle of champagne.
This surprises Leland when he comes calling smitten by Angel. She calls him Alabama. He’s a straight, God fearing country boy who reeks of piety and sincerity. Guy asks what he does for a living. The answer is carpentry evoking the quip “Just like Jesus.”
Broke and desperate Angel asks his marital status and intentions. Married for two years Leland lost both wife and son in childbirth. He states that the stunning Angel reminds him of her.
They become lovers and he represents a ticket out of desperation but at what cost? Revealing his homophobic, pro life views Guy angrily asks him to leave the apartment.
The second act accelerates to a shocking and tragic ending. Baker is thrilled by the costumes which fit perfectly. Guy in an aside reveals that he added two inches to her measurements. He sails for Paris first class bringing along Delia. Covering the rent for awhile Angel is last seen looking out the window and fluttering a fan.
While a flawed play and problematic production it is worth seeing for the outrageous performances of comic genius by Brandon Alvión and the stunning, sensual, fission of Tsilala Brock. All of the actors were quite wonderful and casting was not the issue with this production.