Honeydripper: New play tells bittersweet tale of the blues



Slick,” played by Eric Wood, comforts “Bertha Mae,” played by Mari Harris, in Honeydripper. Photo by Jeffrey Fortson


By Lavasia McMillion

Contributing Writer


When you think of a “honeydripper,” you may think of honey’s slow and calm glide from the dripper. It takes its own time and falls just as it may. A honeydripper is meant to dispense the luxurious honey. There is no way the honey can be held captive. It goes it own way. And yet it is exciting to watch.

So what does this all mean?

Well, the title Honeydripper alone has to draw you in. There is so much love and passion in a title like that. No reason was probably served in even explaining such a captivating title. Honeydripper is a must-see from the perspective of playwright Judy Cooper Lyle and star Mari Harris.

Right off the bat when you meet Lyle you are immediately captivated by her outgoing energy and her passion for her craft. She loves the arts and everything that contributes to the success of African American theater. What may surprise you about her is that she is not Black. The founder and artistic director of Urban Spectrum Theatre Company, Lyle has spent 37 years with the company and deals with diverse works and people.

Lyle adapted Honeydripper from a 2007 film of the same name, as she explains, because it is a good story and dates back to the times of Bo Diddley and other early rock ’n’ roll pioneers. Honeydripper is the name of an early-1950s Alabama juke joint that is losing customers because the music performed by its featured attraction, blues singer Bertha Mae, is being left behind by the newer, more dynamic sound of rock ’n’ roll, epitomized by young electric guitarist Sonny (played by Emmanuel Akingbasote), whom the juke joint owner hires as a new performer.

The film, a winner of an NAACP Image Award, was written and directed by John Sayles, a renowned independent filmmaker who also happens to be White — and whose own work spans races, cultures and genres, from the African American urban sci-fi film The Brother from Another Planet to the Latin American drama (with dialogue mostly in Spanish) Men with Guns.

When you meet Mari Harris, one thing you will notice is her character. She radiates a confidence like no other. Her type is the type you may try to imitate, but most likely cannot because Harris is unique.

Harris immediately explains that she is a “singer, songwriter, actress, and inspirational speaker… [and] vocal coach.” Harris performs “to stimulate and assure people that they are accepted, needed, and appreciated.” And the platform which she stands on is to help others “appreciate and recognize who they are, what they accomplish, and their dreams and visions for the future.” No wonder this is Harris’ fourth production with Lyle.

In Honeydripper, Harris plays Bertha Mae, and as she sings the blues during the interview without even being asked, you know she has not only the confidence for the part, but also the talent and spunk to back up the performance. Acting as the actual vocal coach for the production, she is definitely in her element as well.

Performing in Honeydripper alongside Harris is Eric Wood (who plays Bertha Mae’s younger lover Slick), Pat Lacey (a former member of the Sounds of Blackness), Clark Adams (once a member of Earth, Wind, & Fire), Erin Burkes, Peggy Thomas and Charlese Frizzel.

Harris mentions that “Judy [Cooper Lyle] wants to tell a great story… People should come to be entertained!”


Honeydripper will be performed at Old Arizona Theater, 2821 Nicollet Ave. S. in Minneapolis on May 11, 12, 13, 18, 19, and 20 at 7:30 pm. For ticket information, see the Spot listings on page 5.

Lavasia McMillion welcomes reader responses to mcmil090@umn.edu.