Author: Morgan Flake and Leah Glowacki
The Oxy Theater Department’s latest production, Blues for an Alabama Sky, premiered Nov. 5. and ran through Nov. 9. The play chronicled the lives of five individuals living in 1930 Harlem, illuminating the way in which the Great Depression stifled the energy and creativity of the Harlem Renaissance.
The characters’ dreams inspired their hopes, but they seemed doomed to disappointment. Angel Allen, played by Kaja Martin ’08, is a down-and-out singer living with a self-proclaimed notorious homosexual and costume designer, Guy Jacobs, played by Doug Locke (junior). Guy aspires to move to Paris to design for Josephine Baker, while Angel simply struggles to find a job to keep off the streets. In the apartment across the hall, Delia Patterson played by Chelsea Angle (sophomore) struggles to establish a family planning center in Harlem. Sam Thomas, played by James Ward III (junior), is a successful doctor, but he also likes to “let the good times roll.”
When Angel encounters a southern gentleman from Alabama named Leland Cunningham, played by Brandon Lumbly (junior), she sees an opportunity to escape her destitution through a loveless relationship. Ultimately, some dreams were achieved and others put on hold, but the unique unconditional love between Guy and Angel transcends the challenges of life in tough times.
Many themes of the play correlate with current societal realities. The plight of Harlem residents during the beginning of the Great Depression and the prejudice Guy faces as a gay black man parallel the current economic recession and the revocation of gay marriage rights in California. The black struggle was also a factor in the play that continues to effect society. “I can connect with it as a woman of color today,” Martin said.
Lighting techniques, music and a realistic set connected audience members to the events of the drama. During climactic points of the play, spotlights increased the intensity of character’s actions, evoking audience members’ emotions. The set consisted of an apartment complex without exterior walls, allowing the audience to feel as if they are a part of the character’s private lives. Blues music was used to transition between scenes and transported the audience to the ’30s. Langston Hughes poems recited by Natalya Gibbs (first-year) introduced scenes.
“These vignettes provide an idea of the artistic atmosphere that faded off after the depression,” Director Tre Garrett said.
Humor lightened the mood of otherwise emotionally draining material. As the play progressed, the mood grew increasingly heavy. The optimism of the characters in the face of poor prospects also alleviated the building intensity of the drama.
Despite the humor and optimism, the actors still found it difficult to portray the harsh realities of the drama.”It’s difficult because you really have to get cranked up,” Lumbly said. ” I connect as much as I can with the heights of happiness and the depths of depression of my character. But there is still more rage to be found.”
Garrett called on his experience from directing shows on Broadway, at Walt Disney studios and currently at ABC studios. It was a relief for him to return to college theater and his direction impacted the overall success of the play.
“I enjoyed jumping back into that mindset where I really began to hone my talent,” Garrett said.
The turbulent events of this play that Garrett helped bring to life most notably prove that, in the words of Sam Thomas, man is the beginning and end of his own misery. Though the actions of each character placed them in challenging situations, looking past 125th Street of Harlem would allow them to be the beginning of their own happiness.
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