Beggars and Losers

The Threepenny Opera counts the cost of human capital; Blues for an Alabama Sky clocks a red-hot minute

 

At the opposite end of the dramatic spectrum is Pearl Cleage's Blues for an Alabama Sky, now receiving a beautiful production under the direction of Lou Bellamy. The scene here is also a reimagined past: a New York brownstone during the Harlem Renaissance. Names like Langston Hughes and Josephine Baker are dropped at even intervals. This period detail serves as a backdrop for the intertwined lives of an unlikely set of friends: a mousy reproductive-rights activist (Austene Van Williams-Clark), an avuncular doctor (James Craven in an expansive performance), a "gentleman bachelor" named Guy (Djola Branner), and a flapper named Angel, played magnificently by Marie-Françoise Theodore.

Harlem nights: Marie-Françoise Theodore and Lester Purry of Penumbra's Blues for an Alabama Sky
Harlem nights: Marie-Françoise Theodore and Lester Purry of Penumbra's Blues for an Alabama Sky

In the heightened moment of the Jazz Age, Guy and Angel drink and sing and plan their escape to Paris. The arrival of a handsome stranger (Lester Purry), however, casts a shadow over their happiness. Without giving away too much of their sad, funny story: One of the friends will die, one will find and lose a lover in the space of a week, and one will sail into the sunset. It must be said also that the play's final scene, in which Angel stands in the fading light with a $20 bill in one hand and a glass of champagne in the other, is shattering. Like every good flapper, she believes too much in the world.

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