By Dominique Morisseau.
Directed by Ron OJ Parsons.
with original music composed by Orbert Davis.
At TimeLine Theatre, Chicago.
A haunting sense of doom with jazz intensive tone fuels urban drama.
With original trumpet jazz music played in part by Al’ Jaleel Mcghee, the actor-musician playing Blue the owner of the Paradise jazz club in 1949 in Detroir’s Black Bottom neighborhood, playwright Dominique Morisseau has mounted a haunting urban drama. This is an enticing work with strong characters each caught in an urban struggle that finds city hall moving to displace a black neighborhood for an Interstate Highway. Black Bottom was home to dozens of jazz night clubs where black musician could play and develop their craft uninhibited.
We meet Blue (Al’ Jaleel Mcghee who plays a mean trumpet beside deftly playing the troubled club owner). He is haunted by memories of his father and the pressure of being hounded by urban renewal efforts. He lashes out at everyone around him as his mood shifts and stubbornness adds tension to the club’s troubles. His significant other, Pumpkin (the terrific Kristin E. Ellis) is devoted to keeping Blue’s club and himself functioning. Corn (Ronald L. Conner) is Blue’s piano member of his group while P=Sam (Charles Andrew Gardner) is the group’s drummer. Both musicians are loyal to Blue but they also desire to help Blue and the club survive. Neither they nor Pumpkin believes that Blue will sell to the city. Things get complicated when a voluminous strange woman, Silver (Tyla Abercrumbie) arrives in Detroit. This confidently strong personality is the sexy voodoo-influenced lady from Louisiana. Is she a black widow spider or a lifeline to this group of desperate souls?
As fate of all their lives looms, each must decide what best for them Silver attempts to educate Pumpkin about abusive men while Corn falls under the spell of Silver’s sexuality as she works to control the fate of the Paradise club.
Without giving away more, let me state that Paradise Blue is well plotted and nicely written with effective use of trumpet jazz music as underscoring. This play reminds me of August Wilson’s style. Playwright Dominique Morisseau has blended 1940’s black urban culture with fine storytelling into an intriguing play. Paradise Blue becomes shockingly powerful as it moves along. The cast was terrific, particularly Al’ Jaleel Mcghee as Blue and Kristin E. Ellis as Pumpkin. Come to TimeLint theatre to discover a bright new voice with Dominique Morisseau.
Date Reviewed: May 6, 2017.
For more info checkout the Paradise Blue page at theatreinchicago.com.
At TimeLine Theatre, 615 W. Wellington, Chicago, IL, call 773-281-8463, www.timelinetheatre.com, tickets $38-46-51, Wed, & Thurs at 7:30, Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 4 & 8 pm, Sundays at 2 pm, running time is 2hours, 30 minutes with intermission, through July 23, 2017.