Theater Review: M Ensemble’s “Blues for an Alabama Sky” at Sandrell Rivers Theater

The characters in Pearl Cleage’s Blues for an Alabama Sky are stuck someplace between the ingenious, hopeful heaven of the Harlem Renaissance and the hellish financial cave in of the Great Depression.

The homosexual dressmaker, the singer-showgirl, the group physician, and a circle of relatives making plans crusader aren’t blood family members. But they’ve develop into a type of circle of relatives via desire, taking a look out for each and every different as they are attempting to navigate the highs and lows of Harlem in 1930. And oh, does Cleage’s play give them masses to navigate.

Miami’s M Ensemble, the 51-year-old Black theater troupe this is Florida’s oldest ceaselessly generating skilled corporate, first introduced Blues for an Alabama Sky in the summertime of 2001. The play is having its encore manufacturing on the Sandrell Rivers Theater in Liberty City.

What no person may have expected in scheduling the display is that, no longer lengthy ahead of the hole, a draft of a Supreme Court opinion placing down Roe v. Wade as settled legislation could be leaked. The combat over abortion has once more develop into a raging pro-choice/pro-life warfare, resulting in protests all the way through the United States. That maximum unstable of problems figures into Blues for an Alabama Sky, giving the play a freshly tough resonance.

Cleage’s story (which clocks in at slightly below 3 hours, no longer that it must be that lengthy) takes position in neighboring Harlem flats and at the sidewalks out of doors.

Guy Jacobs (Chat Atkins) and Angel Allen (Chasity Hart), longtime buddies who got here up from Georgia to triumph over the massive town, develop into roommates once more. She’s been dumped via her shady Italian boyfriend, resulting in an enormous public scene and getting the chums each fired from their secure jobs on the Cotton Club.

Guy, an out-and-proud dress dressmaker whose social circle contains poet Langston Hughes, assists in keeping the wolf from the door via making showgirl outfits for native golf equipment. But his incessant dream, his raison d’être, is to visit Paris and design for the nice performer-activist Josephine Baker. Angel? She’s a self-centered good looks with an oversized persona. Fiercely desirous about self-preservation, pragmatic in relation to profiting from besotted males, she’s lower from the similar material as Sally Bowles in Cabaret. To say she’s an emotionally erratic aggregate of hope and disillusionment is an irony.

Their next-door neighbor is Delia Patterson (Sarah Gracel), a tender girl running with delivery regulate pioneer Margaret Sanger to arrange a circle of relatives making plans health center in Harlem. To get the group on board, Delia is making an attempt to achieve the enhance of the dreamy Rev. Adam Clayton Powell Jr. and her fellow worshippers on the Abyssinian Baptist Church.

Both flats develop into a safe haven for the weary native physician Sam Thomas (Keith C. Wade), who follows unending hours of turning in small children with imbibing Prohibition hooch or Champagne together with his buddies, then going out to golf equipment. Work onerous, play onerous. Or, as Sam is at all times announcing, “Let the good times roll!”

click on to magnify Chat Atkins, Chasity Hart, Sarah Gracel, and Keith C. Wade let the good times roll in M Ensemble's Blues for an Alabama Sky. - PHOTO BY CHRISTA INGRAHAM

Chat Atkins, Chasity Hart, Sarah Gracel, and Keith C. Wade let the great instances roll in M Ensemble’s Blues for an Alabama Sky.

Photo via Christa Ingraham

A stranger arrives in the first actual scene, pitching in as Guy guides the ferociously drunken, slightly ambulatory Angel again to his position. Leland Cunningham (Jean Hyppolite) has left Tuscaloosa, Alabama, mourning the deaths of his spouse and new child son. Like such a lot of Southerners within the Great Migration, he has come north to begin over. And after he spies Angel, who appears to be like eerily like his overdue spouse, Leland turns into desirous about beginning over together with her.

Cleage, a novelist in addition to a prolific playwright, paints a portrait of extra and loss with the evocative photographs within the play’s discussion. The homeless in Harlem are “a bunch of sad-eyed souls wondering who pulled the rug out.” Angel desires to escape the shards of her romantic previous, Harlem itself, and “all those cryin’ colored ghosts.” She is, she says, “tired of Negro dreams.”

Among the problems Cleage explores in Blues for an Alabama Sky are ladies’s frame autonomy, homophobia, gun violence, and the never-ending fight of survival in onerous instances — all of which make a 1995 play set in 1930 freshly impactful for audiences in 2022.

Director Carey Brianna Hart, who has an extended historical past with M Ensemble and different South Florida firms as an actor, director, and level supervisor, has drawn advantageous performances from her gifted solid, and her staging of scenes within the two flats is intimate and efficient.

However, timing system defects on opening night time slowed the play down. Mitchell Ost’s set appears to be like unfinished, and the “outside” area calls for the actors to stroll round it at the black-box theater’s barren ground as they fake to be in bustling Harlem. The uncredited scene-bridging tune contributes mightily to the play’s environment, and lighting-projection dressmaker Aatiyah Malik is aware of the way to enlarge each a romantic second and cruel fact. Company founders Patricia E. Williams and Shirley Richardson are a part of the manufacturing’s design group, Williams with length props and Richardson with costumes (although one of the vital latter aren’t proper for the technology).

Two veteran M Ensemble actors give vital, very other performances within the play. Atkins, whose paintings I’ve seen for years, explores new territory right here. He turns his personality Guy, a person who has confronted racial and sexual orientation bias and whose desires are at the cusp of coming true, right into a layered and sympathetic determine. Wade conveys Sam’s stability, his want for get away from the tension of turning in small children, and his later-in-life enjoy of falling in love.

Hyppolite has the cruel however meaty problem of taking part in Leland, a person with conventional conservative values who turns into the villain of the play after his dating with Angel is going into a sad spiral. Gracel, a Carbonell Award winner for Dreamgirls, gives a quiet distinction to Angel as Delia, a faithful good friend and a lady pushed to modify her group for the simpler.

Chasity Hart (no relation to the display’s director) provides a chic, heartbreaking efficiency as Angel, who has come to but some other messy crossroads in a lifestyles filled with such moments. She’s difficult but nonetheless strangely naïve for a girl who has been time and again exploited as she struggles to live to tell the tale.

Hart will get and communicates all of the sides of Angel’s personality, whether or not thru Cleage’s phrases or thru feelings that play throughout her placing face. The New World School of the Arts grad could also be a singer, an amazing one, because the target audience will get to listen to (all too in brief) when Angel sings slightly of W.C. Handy’s “The Saint Louis Blues,” her identical of worship on a Sunday morning. Here’s hoping any individual will solid her in a musical quicker quite than later.

– Christine Dolen, ArtburstMiami.com

Blues for an Alabama Sky. 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and three p.m. Sunday thru May 29, at Sandrell Rivers Theater, 6103 NW Seventh Ave., Miami; 305-200-5043; themensemble.com. Tickets value $31.

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