Pearl Cleage's Blues For an Alabama Sky, recently given a forceful production at the Anthony Bean Community Theater, both celebrates and mourns the Harlem of the Great Depression.
Blues singer Angel Allen (Inas Mahdi) is the tragic heroine of the story. She is staggering home dead drunk at 3 a.m., assisted by her friend Guy Jacobs (Anthony Bean) and another man. Angel has just been fired from her steady gig at a nightclub after cursing out her Italian Mafioso sugar daddy for dumping her for someone else.
Guy takes her in. He's a gay costume designer, and his dream is to work with Josephine Baker, who has taken Paris by storm. He's been sending Baker some of his creations and hoping for a reply that will be his ticket to fame and fortune. A picture of Baker hanging on Guy's wall like a tutelary deity dominates the set. The 1930s are evident in telling details, from popular music of the day to Bean's zoot suits and conked hair. Guy tells Angel he'll take her with him to Paris.
Delia Patterson (Vineta Matthews), a neighbor at their tenement, has a more socially conscious dream. She wants to create a family planning clinic and wins the approval of Adam Clayton Powell, the pastor of her church. Delia falls for Sam "Doc" Thomas (Damien Moses), a hard-working physician, who puts in long hours at a hospital and seems to specialize in delivering babies.
One of the many complications in Blues concerns Leland (Greg Williams), whom Angel flirtatiously dubs "Alabama," because he is an Alabama country boy visiting New York. His wife died in childbirth and the baby was lost as well.
Leland has a more simple view of life than the others. He has a fit when he learns Guy is gay. The plot thickens when Angel realizes she is pregnant with Leland's child. He proposes marriage and she accepts.
Just when finances have hit bottom, Guy receives a telegram and money from Baker. He prepares to move to Paris to work with her, and his joy is delightfully volcanic. But Angel is pregnant and engaged.
She asks Doc to give her an abortion, and Leland becomes furious and throws everyone's plans into chaos.
Although the play could be melodramatic, the dialogue was often snappy and some of the scenes were deeply touching. The cast put in uniformly strong and believable performances. How Bean managed to direct and take on a major role is impressive, he was effective in both capacities. — DALT WONK