Review by Laurel Humes of “Blues for an Alabama Sky”: Falcon Theatre
Complex characters, witty dialogue and social issues combine to make Falcon Theatreâ€™s â€œBlues for an Alabama Skyâ€ a compelling production.
The setting is 1930 Harlem, the beginning of the Great Depression. The 1920â€™s Harlem Renaissance, described as an intellectual, artistic and social â€œexplosion,â€ had been good to the playâ€™s main characters. But the good times are winding down.
Fired Cotton Club singer Angel (Bryana Bentley) canâ€™t find another job. Her long-time gay friend, costumer Guy (R. DeAndre Smith), takes her in. But the closing of many nightclubs puts him out of work, too.
Guyâ€™s dream is to convince famous singer/dancer Josephine Baker to bring him to Paris as costumer for her shows. Angel wants a singing job, but sheâ€™ll settle for being taken care of by a man.
â€œWhat do you see in this guy?â€ Guy asks her about Leland (Elliott Young), a church-going, conservative Alabama transplant who canâ€™t see the true Angel beyond her resemblance to his late, beloved wife.
â€œA rent check that wonâ€™t bounce,â€ is Angelâ€™s curt response.
Angel and Guyâ€™s friends have dreams, too. Social worker Delia (Elizabeth Taylor) wants to open a Margaret Sanger birth control clinic in Harlem. Sam (Keith Alan Holland Jr.) is a doctor and a partyer who now, at 40, yearns to be in love â€“- maybe with Delia.Â
Bentleyâ€™s Angel draws us in with her beauty and sassy speech â€“ just as she wows Youngâ€™s Leland in a terrific flirtation scene they share. Soon after, though, Bentley shows us a hurt and bitter side of Angel, as she recounts an â€œauditionâ€ with a club owner who wanted something more personal than a singer.
Smith plays Guy with such good-natured, funny flamboyance that youâ€™re surprised there is just one scene when heâ€™s in danger of physical attack for being gay, given the time period. Thank costume designer Beth Joos for outfits that match his flashy personality.
Compared to her friends, Taylorâ€™s Delia comes off as straight-laced and maybe even too meek to be a Sanger follower, at a time when birth control was barely legal and certainly still controversial. But Taylor convinces us with her quiet intensity, and lets us see her softer side as she falls in love with Sam.
Director Torie Wiggins and the fine cast make â€œBlues for an Alabama Skyâ€ a forcible theater experience, especially in the harder-hitting second act.
The show continues at Falcon Theatre, 636 Monmouth St., Newport, through Feb. 8. Go to www.falcontheatre.net for ticket information.