Chicago Theatre Review
Court Theatre’s ‘Blues for an Alabama Sky’ a beautifully realized, empathetic production
Blues for an Alabama Sky – Court Theatre
Ron OJ Parson’s directorial efforts at Court Theatre are always must-see productions – his adaptations of August Wilson’s ‘Seven Guitars’ and ‘Gem of the Ocean’ were nothing short of revelatory – and his work with Pearl Cleage’s ‘Blues for an Alabama Sky’ not only continues that tradition of excellence, but takes it one step higher.
Set in 1920s Harlem, ‘Blues’ bristles with authenticity as it follows the lives of five neighborhood residents. Angel (the remarkable Toya Turner) is a fallen singer/entertainer who, along with her gay friend/confidante Guy (a superb Sean Parris), yearns for the relative freedom of Paris, where Guy hopes to design dresses for the popular entertainer Josephine Baker. Their apartment becomes a meeting spot with Sam (the always stellar James Vincent Meredith), a rambunctious but committed doctor; their overly serious but sincere neighbor Delia (a charming Celeste M. Cooper), who is working with Margaret Sanger to open a family planning clinic in Harlem; and Angel’s latest lover, Leland (a passionate Geno Walker), a recent migrant from the South whose old-fashioned ways put him at odds with his new, more free-wheeling acquaintances.
‘Blues’ runs nearly three hours (with a 15-minutes intermission), and it would be a great disservice to Cleage’s beautiful writing and Parson’s expert direction to condense the plot here in this review, such is its richness and meticulousness. From segregation, to gay rights, to abortion rights, to race relations, to the Great Migration, to the slow-burning embers of love in the most unexpected of places – all are richly woven into the tapestry that is Cleage’s play, and it’s hard to believe her vision will ever be better realized than at Court with this cast and crew.
And what a production crew! Court’s sets and lighting (for this show, courtesy of Linda Buchanan and Keith Parham, respectively) are always top of the line, and indeed, for ‘Blues’ it was as though the audience has been transported back in time, so true are the details. Add to that Rachel Anne Healy’s wonderful costumes and Joshua Horvath’s on-point sound design, and you have a theatrical experience as empathetic, even ecstatic, as anything currently on a Chicago stage.
Reviewed by Peter Thomas Ricci
Presented through Feb. 17 by Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis Ave., Chicago, IL 60637
Tickets are available by calling 773-753-4472 or by visiting http://www.courttheatre.org/.
Additional information about this and other spectacular area productions is available at the one, the only, the indefatigable www.theatreinchicago.com.