Blues for an Alabama Sky ★★★★ National Theatre | Sep 21 - Nov 5, 2022

Set in Harlem in the 1930s, Blues for an Alabama Sky deals with the two contradictory currents that continue to inform the African American experience: a northern progressive, secular perspective and a southern conservative, faith-based frame of reference. The first act of the play seems rather like a long, uneventful introduction to a romantic comedy, and it fits uneasily with the second, an event-packed somewhat predictable melodrama. Pearl Cleage's work is probably best seen as an allegory for how individuals survive in a community torn apart by disparate and competing world views. Sule Rimi is excellent as the unconventional, liberal doctor who represents progressive values, and Osy Ikhile is both engaging and frightening as the southerner who comes north and is distressed by the value system he discovers. Cleage seems to see three ways that one can survive in this world torn by such antithetical points of view. Delia, beautifully underplayed by Ronke Adekoluejo, is a churchgoer who tries to gain acceptance for her socially reformist family planning agenda by playing within the rules. Angel, captivatingly portrayed by Samira Wiley, violates the moral taboos, but survives using a charm that thinly veils her manipulation and opportunism. Equally engaging is the aspirational and flamboyant Guy, played by Giles Terera. Terera lights up the stage whenever he appears, but Guy's dream is only realised by escaping Harlem. His fairytale success does not seem to offer a replicable hope for a divided and beleaguered community. The production values at the National Theatre are consistently first-rate, and in this production the set and costumes by Frankie Bradshaw are impressive. As a play, Blues for an Alabama Sky is somewhat uneven, but as an insight into the social history of the African American community it is quite fascinating.

Rated: ★★★★

Reviewed by J.C.
Photo by Marc Brenner.

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