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Spotlight Players’ second show in its 2016-17 comeback season is Pearl Cleage’s Blues for an Alabama Sky, which is directed by Jim LaMonte. First produced in 1995, the play is set in 1930s Harlem – right on the cusp between the end of the Harlem Renaissance and the oncoming Depression. The Renaissance had challenged prevailing stereotypes and had helped form a fresh culture in urban blacks, with new self-identity and awareness. The Depression, as it did all across America, shattered dreams of a better world. In places like Harlem, it gave rise to the return of old cultural struggles. Such is the circumstance in Ms. Cleage’s play.

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Angel (Gabrielle Patterson) cavorts with her friend, Guy (Phillip Armstrong) in Spotlight Players’ “Blues for an Alabama Sky

The characters in this show are all noteworthy. Angel, who is just coming out of a broken relationship as well as the loss of her “singing” job, longs for a stability she has never had. Her gay friend Guy does his best to keep them both afloat by sewing costumes for local showgirls. Guy dreams of going to Paris to work for Josephine Baker, the American expatriate performing in France. Angel’s neighbor is the more conservative Delia, a social worker whose dreams include opening a family planning clinic in Harlem, a radical idea at that time. Sam, a hard-working, hard-playing MD, can be counted on to lead the group’s merriment and “let the good times roll!” An outsider, Leland from Alabama falls for Angel on first sight and wants her to be his bride – an offer Angel has to consider during these troubling times. All of them are looking for some change, an improvement from their struggles. Not all of them find it, in fact – much of the story’s resolution is tragic.

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Delia (Alicia Collins) shares her excitement with her neighbors, Angel (Gabrielle Patterson) and Guy (Phillip Armstrong) in Spotlight Players’ “Blues for an Alabama Sky”

Asked to impart much disorder, hope and fervor, the cast playing these characters is nothing but remarkable – each having created a fully rounded personality for their role – with dreams, desires and emotions. The free-living Angel is played with gusto by Gabrielle Patterson. Her depiction of Angel’s troubled life of heartbreak and desperate unemployment is heart-rending and emotionally charged. Phillip Armstrong’s Guy is a fine balance between a high-spirited, courageous and self-assured gay man and a  dreamer who won’t let anyone deny him his goals.

Alicia Collins’ portrayal of Delia’s innocence and hopefulness is palpable and true. She is delightfully inexperienced and so hopeful in her ideals – and she steps into a delayed womanhood with grace and demure modesty. Doctor Sam, who has fallen for Delia, is played by Ennis Adams Jr. Sam’s gusto for life is fully apparent in Adams’ hands and his sense of caring and advising his troubled friends is well-conveyed.

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Leland (Onis Dean) meets Angel (Gabrielle Patterson) in Spotlight Players’ “Blues for an Alabama Sky”

As the outsider – Leland, Onis Dean brings an understanding of that position to his role. Although he is as hopeful as any of the others, Leland’s lack of tolerance for the culture he is cast into, on top of a style of romance overtly dependent on the past, results in the tragic character Dean has created.

Of special note to me is Jim Lamonte’s excellent direction. He has his players on track emotionally,  with a truth in their characterizations. The actors’ pacing is right on the money and the story-telling is clear.

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Angel (Gabrielle Patterson) comforts her friend Guy (Phillip Armstrong) in Spotlight Players’ “Blues for an Alabama Sky”

Spotlight is fortunate in that their new venue allows for a very deep set design which is fully taken advantage of in director LaMonte’s onstage creation. Two apartments, a hallway, and a sidewalk out front are all well imagined and conceived. Costumes by Nina Perry fill the bill for the characters and the times.

Music is used extensively in this production. The pre-show selections certainly will set your feet tapping, while live offerings by blues singer Sandy Lomax (or Scheri Allen-Simmons on alternate dates) and pianist John Hurst, performed between the play’s scenes, garner theme supported influence from the action.

Bottom line: Although it is longish at 2 1/2 hours, the show is very engaging and the actors’ performances are especially appealing.

Blues for an Alabama Sky continues at Spotlight Players new venue, Theater at the Fort, 8920 Otis Ave. in Lawrence through February 28th. You can find out more information and make reservations by going to http://www.spotlight-players.org or by calling 317-366-4795.

  • – Photos from Spotlight Players

 

 

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