Saturday, February 4, 2023

"Blues for an Alabama Sky" at the Guthrie Theater

Escape the bleak Minnesota midwinter to spend a few hours in the Harlem in the summer of 1930. The dramedy Blues for an Alabama Sky has romance, betrayals, friendship, grief, fashion, and even a little music. There is tragedy in this story of a group of friends living in NYC's large and thriving Black community in the early part of the 20th Century, but the focus is on aspirations and dreams as they strive to make their lives and their community even better. A talented cast and gorgeous design bring this story to vibrant life. See it on the Guthrie Theater thrust stage now through March 12.

The play opens with Angel dancing freely (and drunkenly) after a night of "celebrating" being dumped by her Italian gangster boyfriend, who's getting married. Angel, a dancer at a club, takes out her anger during a show and is fired. She crashes on friend Guy's couch; Guy is a costume designer and openly gay, not an easy road in 1930. Guy's neighbor Delia, a social worker, and friend Sam, a doctor, complete this circle of friends. They're all striving for something better - Delia is working with Margaret Sanger, famed birth control activist, to open a family planning clinic in Harlem, Angel wants to sing in a downtown nightclub, Guy is sending his designs to Josephine Baker in Paris and waiting for her call, and Sam... well Sam just wants to "let the good times roll" after a long day of doctoring. Into their lives walks Leland, a Southern gentleman with set ideas about the way things should be who takes a shine to Angel. She considers marrying him for the stability and security, but when Paris comes calling, she can't say no to living life fully in the way that she loves, despite the consequences of her choices.

Lamar Jeffereson, Brittany Bellizeare, Darius Jordan Lee,
Kimberly Marable (photo by Dan Norman)
Nicole A. Watson directs the talented five-person cast (most of whom have previously been seen on #TCTheater stages), and tells the story with an unhurried pace, letting scenes play out fully, balancing the humor and the drama. Lamar Jefferson, who's appeared on stages around town, is an absolute delight as Guy, charming and fun-loving, but with a few serious moments. Fresh off of the Hadestown tour in which she played Persephone, Kimberly Marable gives a well-rounded performance as Angel, sometimes affable, sometimes frustrating in her choices. Brittany Bellizeare was last seen on this stage in The Bluest Eye, and here is a sweet and sympathetic Delia, less worldly than her friends and determined to make a difference. Stephen Conrad Moore is endearing as Sam, her potential love interest. Rounding out the cast as Darius Jordan Lee, whom you may remember as Riff in the Guthrie's recent production of West Side Story, as the smooth Southerner who doesn't quite fit in with this circle of city friends.

a toast to Josephine (photo by Dan Norman)
The elegant set doesn't have any huge moving pieces, but it's effective in its simplicity. The play takes place entirely in and around our characters' apartments. We see a living room set in the center of the thrust stage, a sort of gathering space for the friends. At the back of the stage is a brick wall with shadows of jazz musicians, dominated by a huge portrait of Josephine Baker. On one side is Delia's apartment where she works and entertains visitors, and on the other side is Guy's costume workspace, with half finished dresses, materials, and dress forms. A gold-green curtain is parted in the center and pulled to the sides to reveal or conceal these two locations, which are populated with authentic period pieces. The front of the stage and voms are used to represent the world outside of the apartment. The '30s era costumes are gorgeous, from Delia's slightly more conservative outfits, to Angel's more flashy dresses, to the men's smart suits, highlighted by Guy's colorfully accented wardrobe (scenic design by Lawrence E. Moten III, costume design by Sarita Fellows).

Even though it was written in the 1990s and set in the 1930s, Blues for an Alabama Sky is relevant in its themes of women's bodily autonomy, of the right to reproductive health, of homophobia and racism, of the challenges of love and friendship, of the choice between safety and passion. The celebration of a thriving Black community is a timely selection for Black History Month, with characters that are complex and flawed and lovable and relatable. 


Join me and my fellow Twin Cities Theater Bloggers for a special event at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres! Get $20 off the ticket price for the March 4 matinee performance of the regional premiere of the super fun and heart-warming musical THE PROM, and stick around after the show for a talk-back with some of the cast. Find more info in the Facebook event here, and purchase discount tickets using code TCTB1 or by clicking on this link (discount valid for March 4 1pm performance only).