“He’s not a gangster!” a drunken Angel exclaims to her best friend and roommate Guy. “He’s a businessman and he didn’t dump me. He got married!”
In Pearl Cleage’s “Blues for an Alabama Sky,” Angel, a multi-talented stage performer, and Guy, a costume-maker who dreams of one day living in Paris and creating gorgeous gowns for Josephine Baker, make an unlikely and eccentric pair.
Set in the waning days of the Harlem Renaissance, the two live together in a small apartment in New York City–far from the Alabama sky. Directed by Nicole A. Watson, “Blues for an Alabama Sky” is currently playing at the Guthrie, closing on March 12.
Across the way from Angel and Guy is Delia, a gentle-yet-fierce character, who works to provide safe and accessible birth control options for the women in her community–with the help of Sam, who sees Delia’s work as wholly intrinsic to his role as a doctor.
Their bond serves as a wonderful “will they, won’t they” subplot throughout the first act, which is apparent as both performers share natural, on-stage chemistry.
Outside, the world is changing. No more are the days of a bustling, Black cultural revival that marked much of the Harlem Renaissance era. The pain of the Great Depression hit Black artists especially hard, and where the arts had been a viable means of self-expression and determination, in “Blues for an Alabama Sky,” most of the artists are just barely hanging on.
Guy’s dreams of making costumes and dresses for Josephine Baker feel almost like a life vest, that thing that he holds onto to save the only thing that ever brought him joy.
Angel finds herself alone after a breakup with an abusive boyfriend only to find herself now involved with a new man, Leland, a possessive yet grieving suitor visiting Harlem from Alabama, who doesn’t see her, but rather sees the reflection of his late wife.
From the moment the curtain is drawn, and she takes the stage, Kimbery Marable absolutely steals the show in her portrayal of Angel. Even without a microphone, Marable is able to utilize the acoustics of the room to almost turn volume into scenery–when Angel wails, she wails. When Angel is silent, you could hear a pin drop.
Stephen Conrad Moore delivers a masterclass in his performance of the gentle doctor Sam Thomas. His character possesses the complexities that make this play unique and his portrayal of Sam–somewhat ironically–serves as a welcome respite from the heavy themes of the play.
The most impressive performance comes from Kevis Hillocks, in his character, Guy. His ability to hit each and every emotional note is alone worth seeing the production.
In “Blues for an Alabama Sky,” the playwright paints a portrait of humanity that will seem familiar, despite not having lived during the Harlem Renaissance, or knowing Leland, Guy, Sam, Angel or Delia.
Cleage, who is a novelist, poet, and political activist, doesn’t rely on many bells or whistles to make this production come to life—the richness of the relationships is enough to leave the audience feeling satisfied.
“Blues for an Alabama Sky” is currently running until March 12 at the Wurtele Thrust Stage in the Guthrie Theater, 818 South 2nd Street, Minneapolis. Visit guthrietheater.org for show times.
Farah Habad welcomes reader comments to email@example.com.