Naima Dawson is a published author, Chicago playwright, and professor. Her career accomplishments cover more than 20 years in Arts Entertainment. Her Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Columbia College Chicago and her Master of Education from DePaul University solidifies her ability to bridge the two worlds between Arts and Education. She is the writer and producer of Your Call! Late Night Improv & Sketch Comedy for Grown Folks, as seen in production at the Apollo Theater and The Mercury Theater.
(l-r)Geno Walker, Toya Turner. Photo by Michael Brosilow
Review: BLUES FOR AN ALABAMA SKY at Court Theatre
By Naima Dawson
BLUES FOR AN ALABAMA SKY, written by Pearl Cleage and Directed by Ron OJ Parson, takes us back to the 1930s in Harlem. A time when the Great Depression brought about a series of economic challenges for African-Americans, which resulted in a dramatic increase in unemployment and economic hardships. Maybe history does repeat itself, as Pearl Cleage reminds us that not too long ago women were fighting for proper health care and control of their reproductive rights. Black communities were fighting through one of the roughest bouts of poverty, joblessness, and homelessness was a reality. Homophobia forced many to live secret lives, while dreams were designed for the adventurous survivor. It rings an all too familiar tone in 2017 for many who are still fighting the same challenges and more.
Trying to coexist in the midst of poverty and believing in one’s dreams can be exhausting, even for the most optimistic believer. Angel (Toya Turner) is a self-centered sexy night club singer who has learned to use men to survive during tough times. Using people to survive is something Angel has come accustomed to doing, as she’s a victim of White men who have done nothing but use her in the cover of darkness while burying their fantasies deep inside her skin. Angel numbs her world with liquor to help her turn a blind eye to her own reality. Time has hardened her spirit and ability to see past the hardships of her present financial state. She acquaints her self-worth with her ability to use her friends and lusty men to get what she wants.
Making her Court Theater debut, Toya Turner is brilliant as Angel. With ease, Turner unpacks the vulnerability and complicatedness woven tightly at the seams of Angel. Turner allows herself to sink into raw and fragile moments and gives the audience an astonishing sense of realness on stage.
Angel’s level of brokenness is not one that can easily be repaired, though her best friend Guy (Sean Parris) does everything in his power to keep hope burning through her veins. Guy, a gay fashion designer, dreams of escaping the hopelessness of Harlem by moving to Paris and designing gowns for the famous Josephine Baker. Angel never buys into Guy’s dreams because she only knows how to live for the current moment. Guy has faith in his talent and is secure in his sexuality during a time when being openly gay can cost him his life.
Sean Parris’s energy is electrifying on stage. Parris’s magnetic energy encapsulates the larger than life personality of Guy in a manner that is both humorous and endearing. His effortless performance brings a level of authenticity that easily wins over the audience’s affection for him.
BLUES FOR AN ALABAMA SKY also picks at the controversial topic of birth control or what many believed to be race control when Margaret Sanger looks to open a birth control clinic in the center of Harlem. Sanger, a white nurse and birth control activist, focused on the high rate of birth and poor quality of life among Harlem’s African American women.
Sam (James Vincent Meredith), Harlem’s favorite and seemingly only doctor, continually refers to the many deliveries of babies he has performed on any given day regardless of tough times but is convinced by the lovely but plain Delia (Celeste M. Cooper), to support the birth control clinic. With Sam’s help, Delia enlisted the support of her pastor, Rev. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. to open the Harlem clinic. Sam, with his deep voice, good looks, and smooth style ultimately wins Delia’s heart, predictable but not boring. Celeste M. Cooper is a delight to watch on stage, as she fluently translates the innocence and warm spirit of Delia. In addition to, Meredith’s ability to project great sincerity and realism as the good doctor Sam.
Change comes calling when an Alabama Southern Leland (Geno Walker), finds himself smitten by Angel’s charm and sensuality. Leland’s stronghold in his Christian, conservative, and narrow-minded beliefs does not stop him from falling fast for Angel and her questionable lifestyle. Geno Walker delivers an exceptional and compelling performance of Leland, who is a man deeply lost in his own convictions. Angel’s selfish ways resurrect a level of darkness and chaos in Leland that traumatically effects everyone.
BLUES FOR AND ALABAMA SKY does its best to crystallize many historic moments at the helm of the 1930s in Harlem. Cleage’s play is enriched with history, but if you are not of the generation or if you are unfamiliar with the era it is easy to miss much of the history embedded in this play. The hope, I’m sure, is that many attendees will walk away wanting to learn more about this period and all the ideas that Cleage leaves for viewers to digest. It’s a necessary story that gives life to voices muffled and dreams deemed. Ron OJ Parson never disappoints in his creative ability to transform stories on stage. Though this is a lengthy production, the performance of the cast greatly makes up for the almost three-hour-long play. Come well rested and ready to be dazzled by a remarkable cast of talented actors.
BLUES FOR AN ALABAMA SKY has been extended through February 19th.