Theater Review: BLUES FOR AN ALABAMA SKY (Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield, MA)

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by Lynne Weiss on July 28, 2023

in Theater-Boston,Theater-Regional


Barrington Stage Company’s riveting production of Pearl Cleage’s Blues for an Alabama Sky, directed by Candis C. Jones, opens with a fast-paced scene in which Guy Jacobs (Brandon Alvión) drags a seriously drunk Angel Allen (Tsilala Brock) up to his apartment with help from a stranger, Leland Cunningham (DeLeon Dallas). The ruckus wakes Delia Patterson (Jasminn Johnson) Guy’s neighbor from across the hall, and by the end of the first scene we have learned a great deal about these Depression-era residents of Harlem: Guy is a self-described “notorious homosexual” costume designer who is determined to go to Paris to outfit Josephine Baker; Delia is a 25-year-old virgin who is working to open a birth-control clinic in Harlem; Angel is a singer/performer whose Italian-American mobster lover has just gotten married and who has lost her singing gig for insulting him from the stage.

They will soon be joined in Guy’s apartment by Dr. Sam Thomas (Ryan George), a Harlem Hospital obstetrician whose motto is “let the good times roll!” The only character who remains a mystery is Leland, a recent Alabama migrant to New York City. As Angel, Guy, Sam and Delia learn more about this character in the course of the play, his threat to their dreams and aspirations grows.

Historic figures lurk around the margins of this gripping drama. In addition to Josephine Baker, our characters discuss their off-stage interactions with charismatic preacher Adam Powell, poet Langston Hughes, and birth control advocate Margaret Sanger. Questions that trigger social and political tensions in our own time plague these characters’ lives as well — women’s agency over their own bodies and freedom of sexual expression. The outcome is a mix of triumph and tragedy, but the storytelling and performing, all the way to the poignant final line of the script, keeps viewers engaged.

Sydney Lynne’s 1930s Harlem set is period-perfect and allows us to view the action in two different apartments as well as the sidewalk in front of them. Danielle Preston (costumes) and Earon Chew Nealey (hair, wig, and make-up) emphasize the distinctive personalities of each character, and Adam Honoré supplied the evocative lighting design.

photos by Daniel Rader

Blues for an Alabama Sky
Barrington Stage Company
Quinson Stage, 30 Union St in Pittsfield, MA (The Berkshires)
ends on August 5, 2023
for tickets, call 413.236.8888 or visit Barrington Stage Co

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